“Feel Good Hit of the Summer” leads off “Rated R” with a crazy, decadent vibe, but the album doesn’t remain at such a chaotic pace. Queens of the Stone Age have everything in their songwriting repetoire: The band’s music caters to the thinking man, the party goer, the rockers, people with a sense of quirkiness, and mainstream audiences who just like good, melodic rock and roll — with a twist of weirdness thrown in.
“The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” is instantly likable, and it’s the song that got me into this awesome band. Many of the other tunes on “Rated R” share the same low-key, melodic vibe of “Lost Art…”, which makes for a great listening experience. Vocals on this album are shared, giving it a more eclectic feel than the classic-rock sound of Queens of the Stone Age’s debut album, another excellent CD. Also, unlike the darker first album, “Rated R” has a brighter sound, and in some cases a more pop/rock feel, which caters to a wider audience. Various musicians, including the great Mark Lanegan (see Whiskey for the Holy Ghost), contribute to “Rated R”, and the results are great.
Perhaps “Rated R’s” most interesting — and best — tune is “Better Living Through Chemistry.” It begins foreboding enough, with Josh Homme’s distant, echoey vocals and a dark guitar riff. Paranoid lyrics give way to a quiet lull, before a Zeppelin/Sabbath riff kicks in unexpectantly. The song is disjointed and a little strange, but perfectly sums up this band and its love of experimentation (on many levels!).
Many of these lyrics are obviously influenced by drugs, all of them very rock and roll in their intent. It sounds like the band had a good time making “Rated R.” “In the Fade,” sung by Mark Lanegan, is a tune that should have made its way straight to modern-rock radio playlists all over the country — the song has “hit” written all over it. A slower, mellow tune with pleasantly vibrating guitars, “In the Fade” is another great musical moment for this band, and showcases its versatility as musicians and varying musical tastes. “Tension Head” is pure hard rock, with an aggressive riff and raging vocals by bassist Nick Oliveria. By contrast, “Lightning Song” is a pleasant guitar instrumental that just kind of floats for two minutes, making way for the last Sabbath-influenced song, “I Think I Lost My Headache.”
Overall, “Rated R” is less straightforward than the first album, less ambitious than the third album (see Songs for the Deaf), and full of more interesting sounds and great tunes by one of the best bands ever.