Months before its release, Songs for the Deaf already became the most eagerly anticipated rock album of its year. R already meant a leap forward for the band, so everybody expected a confirmation of that, but also the fact that Dave Grohl took place behind the drum kit will have something to do with that. Anyway, Songs for the Deaf didn’t disappoint, as it’s their most pleasing and consistent album by far. Maybe it doesn’t have easily accessible and remarkable hit potential like “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret,” but the majority of the songs on this album combine punch and melody, brute rock force and pop accessibility. Saying that QOTSA is a metal band – something which many people and professional critics claim – seems a bit far-fetched as they’re not led heavy but loud, and not aggressive, but forceful as hell. The consistency of the album (some people complain all the songs sound the same) benefits from the dry and simple production, while each member of the new line-up – Homme, Oliveiri, Grohl and new permanent member Lanegan, aided by several former members and session musicians – simply excels. The album is presented as one long radio broadcast, and while some of these chit-chat moments are fun, they weren’t really necessary: if there’s been one album in 2002 that sound as an unbreakable and uniform collection, it must’ve been this one.
Once again, Oliveiri gets to ‘do’ the album’s trash-rockers, the album opener and “Six Shooter,” and while the latter is uninteresting and the only weak track on the album, the opening blast is one giant venomous shot of undiluted power, with repetitive guitar parts and the bass player screaming like an insane maniac. “No One Knows,” the album’s first single is something completely different: a mid-tempo hard rock song with a catchy bouncy and a chorus during which Grohl proves why he’s so respected among his fellow musicians: the guy cannot only write songs, he has mastered a tremendously forceful drumming technique. As infectious as this song are also “Go with the Flow” (which became the album’s second single) and “First It Giveth,” which is another highlight. It’s not easy to describe their style, as they’ve obviously a decent knowledge of musical history themselves, and there are elements of genres as various as hard rock, psychedelica, ‘70’s rock, garage and plain pop detectable in their music, which simply stands on its own. “The Sky Is Fallin’” starts quite unremarkable, with a drugged atmosphere and some chanting (the great Chris Goss is there too!), but then the song launches into this simple yet cool riff, and Homme once again comes up with a killer vocal line in the chorus. He may not be a very versatile vocalist, but the guy knows how to write memorable hooks, also adds suitable backing vocals and clearly worked on these songs for a long time. Also stuff like “Gonna Leave You” (I’m not sure who sings that one, can anyone tell me, because otherwise I’d have to guess it’s Oliveiri) and the bludgeoning title track have these cool vocal parts that are quite thin, and a departure from traditional hard rock or metal-growling, but that’s what makes ‘em so original.
The history of Lanegan and the Queens probably goes even back before the days that Homme toured with The Screaming Trees during their last tour, but this is the first album that Lanegan is given quite a prominent role. His whiskey ‘n cigarettes sandpaper voice makes “Hangin’ Tree” and the near-shuffle of “God Is in the Radio” so much better than they already are, while his tombstone-growl is used to great effect on the title track, which he co-wrote. The track that did it for me, however, and for many people I’ve met, is the massive desert-rock bulldozer of “A Song for the Dead,” with its lengthy and speedy intro, until the band crosses into the riff, and Lanegan provides the most spine-chilling vocals since, well since I don’t know who. The man hasn’t got a “nice” voice, but it blends in so well with the forceful music, of which Grohl’s drumming is an absolute highlight. But there are several more surprises in store: “Another Love Song,” for instance, which has more in common with the 13th Floor Elevators than Black Sabbath, and then there’s also the ‘hidden track’ “Mosquite Song,” a semi-acoustic that makes a trip of thirty years back in time, with some nice sonic details and instrumentation. The album closer is a surprising – but enjoyable – cover of The Kinks’ “Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy” and confirms garage-y ‘60’s rock was a touchstone for the band. Like on the previous albums, Homme and his crew have come up with a strong album with a unique sound that combines the best of now and then (and later?), with strong musicianship (the album is crammed with impressive solos, memorable riffs and energy) and the songs to match it. With Songs for the Deaf, the Queens of the Stone Age finally eclipsed the commercial ànd artistic success of Kyuss, in one fluent move also becoming one of (loud) rock’s most interesting bands. What’s next?