"Era Vulgaris," Queens of the Stone Age
Since their 1998 self-titled debut, Queens of the Stone Age -- basically singer-guitarist Josh Homme and a rotating cast of collaborators -- have proved capable of a lot of things: bong-splashed psychedelia, chugging roadhouse blooze, spiraling guitar fantasias. That flexibility has resulted in some potent albums, notably 2002's gold-selling, Grammy-nominated "Songs for the Deaf." But on the first half of the new "Era Vulgaris," Homme and Co. attempt to use jackhammer intensity and musical malevolence in the service of the one thing the band's virtuoso heavy metal is perhaps constitutionally incapable of being: sexy.
Not surprisingly, it doesn't work. It's not just the preponderance of power-tool guitar sounds and complex song structures that preclude anything from coming across as erotic; it's also Homme's unwillingness to let anything flow. Clumsy lyrical come-ons like "Sick, sick, sick / don't resist" and "Do me first / do your worst" -- not to mention the transparently titled song "Into the Hollow" -- are couched in music so rigidly controlled and tightly wound it sounds more like the work of a drill sergeant than a lover. Likewise, Homme's squalling guitar solos and falsetto vocal leaps seem like nothing more than exercises in technique.
Mercifully, more than halfway through "Era," the band finally gives up on sexy and begins to play to its strengths. "3s & 7s" rides a choogling BBQ beat and garage-rock riff like ZZ Top gone loco. "Suture Up Your Future's" punch-drunk guitar and lush chorus make it a prime lava-lamp jam. On "River in the Road" and "Run Pig Run," Joey Castillo's pounding, agile drum work and Homme's stoned choirboy vocals and jigsaw guitar lines threaten to lift you up and fly you away to that hazy place where B-movie toughs, fantasy novels and panzer tanks go to party. But not to have sex.
Favorite track: "River in the Road"
-- David Marchese