Rated R

Right at the moment when even mainstream rock publications and broadcasting companies were getting ready to embrace the stoner-movement (OK, it’s no movement, there’s no creed or anything, but please, let’s keep this simple), Homme and Co. drifted further and further away from the genre’s mastodon heaviness and slowness. The self-titled debut album already marked a more conventional and catchier hard rock-direction than any Kyuss album before, but R is the album where the Queens got rid of the “stoner” tag, once and for all. Admittedly, the guitar still has that “fat” sound (which I think sounds great) and is way thicker than on most other contemporary rock albums, but apart from album closer “I Think I Lost My Headache” (or at least the first half of it, since the rest of it is some utterly superfluous horn crap), this album sounds remarkably up-tempo and varied when compared to Welcome to Sky Valley. Homme and Oliveiri wrote almost all of the songs, and while most of them sound positively catchy, they also learned about the benefits of additional instrumentation (keyboards, vibes, saxophone, horn), often provided by members of the Queens’ family tree (Chris Goss, Mike Johnson, The Screaming Trees’ Barrett Martin), while Mark Lanegan makes his debut on lead vocals, and Halford adds his 2 evil cents to the opening track.

The ultimate hedonistic statement, the lyrics of “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” (“Nicotinevaliumvicadinmarijuana-ecstacyandalcohol”?) get a fitting musical backing of stuttering drums and guitars, with an increasing intensity and acceleration. Basically this isn’t what I’d call “accomplished” song-writing, but they pull it off, and quite possible because they were stuffing themselves with their song’s subjects (who knows?). It’s the next song – one of the best singles of 2000 in my opinion – that proved the Queens had become an awesome rock band, with it’s hooked melody and smart use of vibes courtesy of Barrett Martin. There isn’t really a song on the album with the same mainstream potential, though “Auto Pilot,” sung laconically by Oliveiri, and with a great wailing guitar playing by Homme, is another winner. There’s also the repetitive riff of “Monsters in the Parasol,” which seems to be universally despised, but for some reason it kept on drifting around in my head. The dense “Better Living Through Chemistry” has a nice percussion-filled intro (again, Martin), and slightly spooky vocal line by Homme, until after a silence (around 2:15) the guitar suddenly returns, and directs the songs into neo-psychedelic territory, with rolling drums and wavering backing vocals. The laidback “In the Fade,” sung by Lanegan, has in fact a lot in common with the sound on his former band’s last album, or that kind of rock in general. There’s also the playful “Leg of Lamb” that basically gets its value from Homme’s drugged vocals, but underneath it all there’s a nice melody as well. Since the Queens are something of a democracy, second chief Oliveiri gets to shine during the filthy rockers “Quick and to the Pointless” and “Tension Head.” Neither of both is particularly great, but the girly backing vocals and Oliveiri’s manic performance during the first one are flat-out fun. “Tension Head,” on the other hand, has some crunchy guitar parts, but the vocals are really lousy.

Finally, the Queens also continue the tradition of ending the album on a lesser note: the short instrumental “Lightning Song” is nice and oozes out a slightly eastern influence because of the percussion, while the Sabbath-esque album closer “I Think I Lost My headache” is just fine, up till that annoying pseudo-jazz ending that completely spoils the fun. But, the final verdict is really positive since the band evolved into a creative and interesting rock band that’s not afraid to shed the bludgeoning force of its past while incorporating often surprisingly poppy elements into their music. Despite their infatuation with all things druggy, they didn’t succeed in making an addictive album, because it’s way to uneven for that, but they confirmed that disbanding a band needn’t result in lesser results. At this point, the band eclipsed Kyuss’ popularity and almost its excellent music. Almost.

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