By now it’s no secret that you can always rely on Queens of the Stone Age to deliver your fix if you’re jonesing for some intelligent, interesting hard rock, and their latest album shouldn’t do anything to tarnish their already lofty reputation in the rock world. That said, there are some pretty big changes to be absorbed here, starting with the personnel: after the commercial breakthrough of Songs for the Deaf, bassist and co-founder Nick Oliveri left and took the band’s punkish edge with him, while Dave Grohl departed with his legendary drumming skills and his star power in tow. However, Josh Homme apparently wasn’t going down that easy, as he quickly regrouped, took the helm himself, and churned out Lullabies to Paralyze with a reconstituted lineup. There are some other changes to absorb, as well, as the band’s recent tumult is reflected in a rather modified sound. For those accustomed to the catchy, at times even radio-friendly stylings of Songs for the Deaf or its predecessor Rated R, this album will surely come as something of a surprise. And even those who are familiar with Josh’s larger body of work going back to his days with stoner rock pioneers Kyuss are likely be taken somewhat aback by what’s on display here.
Whatever you may think of him, you’ve got to give Josh Homme credit for at least one thing: for a guy who just experienced an unlikely commercial breakthrough less than three years ago, he’s not playing it safe and cranking out singles for the local corp-rock station on this album. Lullabies to Paralyze is notably less accessible and immediately gratifying than the album that came before it (and the album that came before that, for that matter), as it’s marked throughout by a twisted guitar sound and an overall disaffected mood that only intensifies as it goes on. This reviewer can’t help but think the strains of the rock and roll lifestyle are starting to wear on Josh after a decade and a half, as Lullabies is easily the darkest and hardest-edged thing he’s put out, at least under the Queens of the Stone Age moniker. Nick’s departure has regrettably reduced the band’s fun quotient a bit, but no matter: the band is obviously in more than capable hands with Josh as its principal mastermind, as this album manages to convey a suitably raw and grungy feel without masking the razor-sharp songwriting to be found within.
In his illustrious career Josh has proven himself adept at finding an endless series of variations on both the basic rock riff and the time-honored rock song form, and this album is no exception. Here the result is a collection of songs that show a consistent knack for starting you off in one direction and then pulling you without warning in another. Lullabies to Paralyze revels in off-kilter time signatures, jarring song structures, and heavy layers of guitar distortion, and while that made the album more of a challenge that I had anticipated, it was all the more rewarding for it.
Lullabies to Paralyze mines more sonic territory on its first three songs than most entire albums: Mark Lanegan’s husky baritone crooning sets the tone nicely on This Lullaby; Medication is a short, sharp burst of chugging rock fury; and Everybody Knows That You are Insane starts as a mournful quasi-ballad before careening suddenly into a more chaotic sound propelled by a momentous groove. From there the Queens explore a different corner of the rock world at almost every turn, ranging from warped pop-rock to warped alt-rock to warped noise rock (you should be noticing a pattern by now). Lullabies to Paralyze is predictably unpredictable, flying out in all sorts of directions (and with all sorts of instrumentation), but the top-notch musicianship of Josh & Co. is always there to hold things together. At the end of the day Lullabies to Paralyze is almost as trippy, as groove-laden, and as utterly enjoyable as anything the Queens have ever put out. Whatever its commercial fortunes turn out to be, this album deserves every bit of acclaim it gets.