When one looks over the bill for Ozzfest, consistently the biggest hard rock tour in America, one band sticks out like a sore thumb. Between the screaming "new metal" of Static-X, Godsmack and Kittie, you will find Queens of the Stone Age, the newest torchbearers of the "stoner rock" movement.
Queens was founded by former Kyuss guitarist Josh Homme and bassist Nick Oliveri in 1997 after the legendary group decided to split up. The rest of the band's line-up, however, has been in constant flux. At least one of a half dozen people can be considered Queens at any time, giving the band's sound a flexibility that provides for more creative musicianship both in the studio and on stage.
When the band signed with Interscope Records last year, however, many fans feared that the experimental nature of Homme and Oliveri's song writing would be curbed by narrow-minded record company executives and uninventive producers. But rather than run from something different and stay with the norm as so many other labels have chosen to do in the past 10 years, the company that has brought us Primus and Helmet now brings us one of the most innovative rock albums in years.
Featuring guest appearances from Twisted Sister's Rob Halford and Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan, "Rated R" takes listeners into the depths of punk, desert rock (which Kyuss pioneered) and something much more new and complicated. But be warned: This is not a one-listen album. This is a record that one is meant to understand, not experience. Every listen gives new insight and adds a new dimension to the music.
"The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" is the album's first single and is probably one of the more accessible tunes on the record. It features Homme's trademark relaxed vocals and melodic, plucky guitar playing overlying a steady tempo that runs through the whole song. Oliveri and drummer Gene Trautmann barely change their play through the entire song, but when the chorus rumbles into play, the sound is undeniably more heavy. This is Queens' greatest strength: the ability to fool the listener into hearing something that is not there.
In fact, doing anything else while listening to this album for the first time is a bad idea. Most songs, such as "Leg of Lamb" and "Better Living Through Chemistry," are the kind that beg the listener to lay back, close their eyes and let the music carry them away to someplace deep and magical. The bass is high, the guitar fuzzy and the symbol-dominated drumming hypnotize the listener with what the band's own Web site (www.qotsa.com) calls "trance-inducing repetition."
While most of the album aims for the listener's brain, other tracks are going straight for the gut. Oliveri managed to sneak two punk-infused tracks of aggressive guitar playing and high-pitched screaming onto the album, the first and best of which is "Quick and To the Pointless." The opening track, "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," features fairly basic lyrics that make the song's title seem both ironic and terribly amusing. But if drug humor is not your cup of tea, you might as well skip ahead.
With QOTSA's inclusion on the Ozzfest main stage and the backing of a major label, the future looks bright for Homme, Oliveri and whomever else they choose to bring along for the ride. But the question remains - are casual American music fans ready for melodies and textures that require thought?