Tag Archives: Josh Homme

In Your Honor

With his band getting increasingly formulaic, culminating with the quite adequate but somewhat disappointing One By One, Dave Grohl needed a break. Enter Probot, Grohl’s heavy metal side project whereupon he co-wrote and performed songs with metal icons like Lemmy, Max Cavalera, and King Diamond. With the self-titled Probot album out of his system, Grohl and his main band reconvened for In Your Honour, easily their most ambitious album to date, and arguably their best since The Colour And The Shape.

The album is chock full of loud, anthemic rockers and contains a bevy of well-crafted soft rock compositions (a la “Walking After You”), the album’s sequencing and conception are seriously flawless. This is a 2-cd set, with the first cd containing 10 loud songs and the second showcasing 10 more slices of Grohl’s softer side. But all songs seem to blend into one another with several high profile cameo appearances from the likes of Norah Jones, Led Zepplin’s John Paul Jones, Kyuss/Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme, and The Wallflowers’ keyboardist Rami Jaffee. Fortunately, like I said before, almost all of these songs are good so the album is largely enjoyable anyway, even if I can’t help but think that a shorter set list that intermingled loud and soft songs was the way to go. That said, rather than focus on the albums flaws, let’s talk about its considerable strengths, shall we?

On disc 1, all the classic Foo Fighters elements are in place: Grohl and and Chris Shiflett’s guitars are crisp and loud, Hawkins and Mendel ably add heft to the bottom end, and Grohl’s alternately smooth and screaming rough vocals inevitably lead into the payoff: catchy chorus after catchy chorus. Although I marked down “In Your Honour,” No Way Back,” “Best Of You,” “DOA,” and “The Last Song” as highlights, almost every song here is a potential hit or highlight, even if the band lacks distinctive characteristics and the chance taking acumen to be truly exciting anymore. No, this disc is merely clean, highly professional arena rock (remember, Grohl has never worried about silly things like “indie credibility”) that doesn’t offer anything different but which rocks harder and with more consistent quality than any Foo Fighters album since the first two. As for the mellower second disc, it’s impressive and can never get boring. It’s largely due to the sequencing, as the songs are of a surprisingly high quality given that the band is usually much better at rocking out than on ballads. Personally, I prefer songs such as “Miracle,” “Over and Out,” and “On The Mend,” which are a little more instrumentally fleshed out, but there’s nary a truly duff track, and fans of Cobain (who “Friend Of A Friend” is about), Norah Jones (who sings the bossa nova flavored “Virginia Moon” with Grohl), and Taylor Hawkins (the band’s popular resident party animal who sings the livelier “Cold Day In The Sun”) should take particular note of those tracks.

Some albums add up to more than the sum of their individual parts, some add up to less (which is why track-by-track album reviews don’t really work), and In Your Honor is the latter case, strong though many of its individual songs are.


One By One

A lot of people seem to have really missed the Foo Fighters during their three year absence between albums. At least that’s what I think, because the rave reviews that I’m reading for this album don’t seem justified, as more and more I’m starting to think of the Foo Fighters as a great singles band who merely make good (sometimes very good) albums. Truth is, when I hear a Foo Fighters song on the radio chances are good that I’ll turn it up and sing along, but by the ninth or tenth Foo Fighters song in a row I have a hard time staying enthused. This album stands out due to its return to a grungier sound, and by the fact that it is more atmospheric and less poppy than past efforts. There are some notable highlights as well, as “Low” is a dead ringer for Queens of the Stone Agoe (whose last album and tour Grohl had played drums on, Songs For The Deaf), only with Grohl singing. I think Josh Homme taught him a thing or two about playing guitar, too, because Grohl also unleashes cool riffs on “Have It All” and “Times Like These” (which also has the album’s best lyrics and vocals), while “All My Life” has an agreeably hard-hitting chorus and “Halo” is impressively epic.

Actually, there really isn’t a bad song in the bunch, but though I generally enjoy listening to these songs I’ll be damned if I can remember more than bits and pieces of most of them afterwards. “Come Back,” an explosive and evocative epic (7:45) that ends the album with an exclamation point, is an adventurous exception.

Era Vulgaris

This album is an ode to the times, QOTSA style. Not a scathing reprimand of corrupt political bureaucracies or a morally devoid society, but an embrace of lifestyles only we can attain: cheap cigarettes, ample drugs, on demand porno, and bands like this being able to pursue their goals on their terms.

Era’s first track, ‚”Turnin’ on the Screw” sets the tone for the album. It blends previous styles from the spooky, spacey more produced sounds of Lullabies To Paralyze to the leaner, meaner sounds of the early days. The song’s bare-bones drums are soon accompanied by dirty swaggering guitars that sound loose, but in repetition come together in odd syncopation reminiscent of Rated R’s “Leg of Lamb.” Then comes Homme’s 6′ 4″ falsetto, an unusual, but endearing quality.

The first single “Sick, Sick, Sick” delivers their patented vicious guitar assault, like a shiv to the gut in a prison cafeteria. In essence, the certain element of danger that left with Nick Oliveri is back.

What is dubbed as QOTSA’s “stoner rock‚” a label Josh hates, is a blend of music philosophies; the dark, heavy pounding Sabbath-like riffs with sprinkles of blues inspired ZZ Top jams. Then throw in some 80s sunset strip swagger, 90s “I don’t give a fuck” delivery, and there you have it. QOTSA takes a searing riff and repeats it almost ad-nauseum to the untrained ear. But, with every line or two a clever blues harmonic or subtle bending of a note is added to give the chords dynamics. This changes what may sound like a droning loop into a fierce chorus of six string beasts churning and breathing and coming to life.

Another favorite on the album is “Battery Acid.” The guitar is traditionally punk, then played at half speed, given the hypnotic, stoner treatment and recorded with a low-fi garage quality.

Queens retools “Make it Wit Chu” for Era. Originally a Desert Sessions recording, (one of Josh’s Half dozen side projects) the song retains the band’s theme of overt sexuality and mayhem while adding a slithering, sleazy lounge feel. The Desert Sessions recordings are fueled by drug binges that lead to trips into the desert for artists eager to work with Homme. Era is loaded with surprise party-buddies. Mainstay Mark Lanegan lends his gruff vocals, as does The Strokes Julian Casablancas and Trent Reznor.

Era Vulgaris is overwhelming guitar, crunchy bass, and simple, but effective, drums with enough balls for any metal fan. A playful, yet dark, sexuality makes them acceptable for the ladies too. Their music is as much at home on your car stereo as it is in a strip club or at a party.

Lullabies to Paralyze

What happened next is that both the music and tabloid press were bestowed with a godsend when bass player Nick Oliveri, a.k.a. Tension Head, got ousted from the band by the same man he’d been playing with since the late 80s. Allegedly, Oliveri’s confrontational behavior (a euphemism for the innumerable examples of on- and off-stage ruckus, as well as a barely controllable drug dependence – “Meth, I hear You Callin’,” indeed) became too much for even the Queens, who used to be more than willing to live up to their image of the hardest partying rock band from the big league. It felt like editing the character of Paulie Walnuts from the Sopranos for the exaggerated use of the f-word. Say what? Anyway, the man soon found other outlets to keep himself occupied, such as touring with former cohorts Brant Bjork and Mark Lanegan as well as his own band Mondo Generator, from which he – ironically – would also be temporarily excluded for a while, after having beaten up a technician during a concert. Most definitely a good thing on a diplomatic level, but what about the consequences for the Queens? The band had never really relied on a steady line-up, with members appearing and disappearing again, becoming more and less present, etc. but all the while, the goateed nut’s erratic behavior and renegade status proved to be the perfect sidekick to the more balanced control freak Homme is. It’s a bit like Public Enemy’s Chuck D. and Flavor Flav. As the thinker, leader and conceptualist behind the band, D. doesn’t really need a clown for a partner, but that silly persona ensured there was always some fun to be had, some cheap shots to be received, some gossip to be picked up, some humor to be heard. The manic energy Oliveri brought to the band ensured they never appeared to be resting on their laurels, despite their occasionally ventures into crunching, corpulent monotony. Songs for the Deaf, for instance, is – because of the nature of the songs and the production – almost so homogenous it becomes one huge, bland song, but those occasional melodic ditties (“Another Love Song”) and punk bursts (“Millionaire”, “Six Shooter”) offered a break of pace and turned the album’s relentless surge of riffs a bit more vivid. Therefore, with Oliveri out of the picture, two questions need to be answered: can Homme indeed pull it off by himself and will Nicky be missed if he does?

The answer to these two questions are inevitably linked to each other. Of course Homme can do it all by himself – throughout the past decade and a half, he has created and refined a wholly personal and immediately recognizable style, a juxtaposition of suave vocals and melodies on the one hand and a colossal update of no nonsense riff-based hard rock on the other hand. It’s a style that often succeeds in uniting the sun-parched, lumbering grooves of his first band Kyuss with a more concise, even fresh brand of hard rock, characterized by repetitive riffing and massively pounding rhythms. Nothing new under the sun, but over the course of a few albums, the approach has become so perfected, so stylized and tightened that the stiff art design of the album covers has translated into equally well outlined music and this is where the absence of Oliveri comes in. Whereas the previous album managed to avoid boredom because of the silly thematic snippets, maniacal punk songs and 60s styled rev-ups, Lullabies to Paralyze almost collapses under its own homogenous sound and weight. It definitely has its change of pace and stylistic shifts, but the recurring reliance on a bag of tricks, as well as a mechanical vibe that more and more replaced the looseness that could be found on earlier efforts puts the focus on the production stages of the album. In other words: here’s the first album that feels like the product of a job, a process of rehearsing and recording, the first one that sounds as if Homme & Co. (Troy Van Leeuwen, Joey Castillo, Alain Johannes, Lanegan) were aiming for “a QOTSA album” instead of doing whatever the fuck they felt like. As such, the album is tainted by a self-consciousness and lack of spontaneity that also slightly marred Mark Lanegan’s (superior) 2004 album Bubblegum. This isn’t to say the album is a failure, as the majority of the songs are worth checking out and the band still displays amazing chops, offers some blazing songs and the good ol’ cocktail of eros and thanatos (which also included drugs), the sex drive and play with danger and death.

The concept of “album as a bunch of lullabies” is actually one that fits the band extremely well. Like very few other bands, the Queens have always succeeded in keeping their music both powerful and lustful, bursting with sexual metaphors and occasionally macho posturing with a wink. The overwhelming lullaby/nightmare/fairy tale-frame and its old-school obsession with sex, perversion of death provides the perfect form for the band to play with. For a while, this results in a mostly terrific string of songs, as the run up ’til centre-piece “Someone’s in the Wolf” is for the most part as rewarding as their previous albums were. Lanegan’s spooky vocals set the tone for much of the album, as layers of vocals, eerie effects (echoes, clattering knives, creepy child pianos, etc) create an almost carnivalesque ambiance of lunacy that always looms in the background. The first album half is heavy on the energy songs, with “Medication” being the wildest example, a charged rocker that almost comes off like the previous album’s “Millionaire,” except that this one isn’t nearly as lethal. Easily as effective are songs like “Everybody Knows That You Are Insane,” which shares a vague melodic similarity and amount of syllables with the Buzzcocks’ “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays,” but otherwise explores familiar territory: scorching hard rock with a straightforward drive and a melodic hook you can’t get rid of. Equally accessible in a “hey, this sound like pop music!”-way, are “Little Sister” and “In My Head,” but whereas the former is an infectious winner that shows them at their tightest, the latter (which already appeared on one of the Desert Sessions albums, just like final song “Like a Drug”) feels somewhat underdeveloped, with a rather lame chorus in particular. The results are sometimes better when they’re playing it not as straight, as the gloomy “Tangled up in Plaid” transcends from a creepy strut to a blistering acceleration with a great performance from Castillo and nightmarish violence scenario of “I Never Came” is delivered in an admirably sensual and restrained manner.

It all leads up to the album’s awkward epicenter, the 7 minute “Someone’s in the Wolf,” an angular piece of blues-rock driven by a disjointed, endlessly repeated riff & rhythm, and given a perverse Little Red Riding Hood-treatment. Unfortunately, the song also marks the beginning of the downward spiral, as the remaining songs are often decent, but either short on ideas (the distorto-fest of “Skin On Skin,” the alarmingly directionless “You Got a Killer Scene There, Man…”) or stretched out for way too long, like the 6+ minutes of “The Blood Is Love” and “Long Slow Goodbye.” It is almost as if these songs were tacked to the preceding bunch of songs as an afterthought, as they lack the energy, top quality riffs and fine combination of vibe and power, of sexiness and balls. Like most other albums that run on for an hour, Lullabies to Paralyze would have benefited from a slightly humbler approach, but that’s a piece of advice that’s wasted on folks who have Billy Gibbons over, but only have him play on a so-so song like “Burn the Witch.” Oliveri perhaps wouldn’t have prevented Homme from turning in a modern day version of a mastodon concept album about nothing in particular, but I’m sure he would’ve turned the energy meter up once in a while, as most of this chugs by too lazily and self-satisfied. For its first three albums, the band performed with the eagerness of wild canines and some will believe that Lullabies to Paralyze delivers the same quality, but after way too many listens I can only conclude the band sold its editing machine, lost some of its mojo, had its fangs pulled and had them replaced by a nice pair of harmless dentures.

Songs for the Deaf

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?

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.

Queens of the Stone Age

Remember Kyuss guys? I know little about them at the time of writing and not a huge amount about Queens Of The Stone Age compared to certain other bands I could be reviewing. I’ve never really paid them much attention and from listening to this debut set, I think I know why. Oh, they have their plus points, ‘No One Knows’ being just one of them. Plus points like? Well, without mentioning individual tunes for a little bit here, they sound great. They sound genuinely impressive, especially turned up loud. Question one, strip away the layers of magnificent fuzz and what are we left with? Second good point, they can play. Josh Homme does a few neat little guitar solos, although I always yearn for them to be longer. The band as whole have a great fuzzy thing going on and clearly are good enough players for us to assume they have ‘chops’. Although they do it in such a way they don’t go overboard. For all the 70s rock influences carefully hidden underneath, they aren’t about to blow it by releasing an album long composition for piano and orchestra. I find myself losing interest during the 2nd half of the album, not because it’s a huge amount worse than the 1st half, rather the lack of variety. For all that impresses, I have a nagging suspicion the songs came very easily to Josh Homme and co, too easily. A natural evolution from Kyuss and post Kyuss activities perhaps, but I’ve heard better rock debuts.

I’ll mention a few individual tunes now, ‘Regular John’ is awesome, a stupendous driving riff powers a tune that’s also got just enough vocals to please. Josh Homme isn’t a shouter, his voice sort of just sits in the middle of the overall sound, which is always how a good vocalist in a band should be. ‘Walkin On The Sidewalks’ contains a very dirty sounding guitar riff and sounds so good turned up loud it almost blows away my theory that hard rock albums should also sound reasonably decent listened to quietly. The slightly strange closing tune ‘I Was A Teenage Hand Model’ makes me yearn that Queens Of The Stone Age had thrown in a semi-acoustic ballad, or just something different, somewhere earlier in the albums tracklisting. ‘I Was A Teenage Hand Model’ is very throwaway yet works as one of the few different things here. Oh, the very beginning of ‘Hispanic Impressions’ always makes me think that a Deep Purple song is about to begin. Does anybody else get that? The six minute long ‘You Can’t Quit Me Baby’ is a nod to Led Zeppelin and also something a little more interesting in terms of song-arrangement. A solid debut album overall, rather than an astonishing one, although there is enough within the highlights to suggest that Queens Of The Stone Age can be very good indeed when everything falls in the correct places. Indeed, ‘Regular John’ is so good I could almost claim it’s one of the greatest hard-rock songs ever.