The Over/Under: Queens Of The Stone Age

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Attention comments-section creeps, mutants, shut-ins and teenage hand models: MAGNET has been fairly diplomatic about these Over/Under lists in recent weeks, offering up a “hey, it’s just this listener’s opinion” line of conciliatory dialogue in order to keep the apes in the yard. But when it comes to Queens Of The Stone Age, the best hard-rock band of the last decade, I’m pulling rank. I’ve, um, relaxed at the Queens’ Rancho De La Luna clubhouse and I’ve walked through the Joshua Tree desert in the pitch-black night through a pack of coyotes. I’ve been to the green room and the hotel and the afterparty and the party that comes after the afterparty with these guys. I gave Homme a Ween bootleg and he gave me some pull quotes. Troy Van Leeuwen made fun of my Wrens T-shirt, and I sat with Nick Oliveri as he got a Roky Erickson “Easter Everywhere” tattoo. I told Nick he could hold my hand if he got scared, but he was such a trooper. Here are the five most overrated and five most underrated QOTSA songs.

The Five Most Overrated Queens Of The Stone Age Songs
1. “No One Knows” (2002)
… why this song became the Queens’ biggest hit to date. The predictable gripe about “No One Knows” is that its verses are essentially oom-pah music, which seems like an unacceptably ironic songwriting move. If that’s what it took to get the Queens on the radio, however, so be it. The real crime here is the lack of a chorus; when the band explodes out of its little polka experiment, the riffage is fierce but oddly unfulfilling and immobile. Don’t tell anyone, but the lyrics convery almost exactly the same thing as Rated R‘s “The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret.” Homme himself told me he didn’t want to be enshrined on modern-rock radio playlists for “No One Knows,” and the vast remainder of the Queens catalog answers the question, “Why?”
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/NoOneKnows.mp3

2. “Hangin’ Tree” (2002)
Not by any means a bad song, this Mark Lanegan-sung track appears in superior form on Desert Sessions Vol. 7 & 8. I’ve never bought into the notion that the Desert Sessions should be a proving ground for Queens album material; and in the case of “Hangin’ Tree,” the band took a diamond in the rough and shined it to dull luminosity. It’s played a little too fast, a little too tight, when a loose-limbed and all-shook-down approach would’ve better served the mood of the melody.

3. “Little Sister” (2005)
Too much cowbell. As if to satisfy some itch brought on by Homme’s titillation with the Christopher Walken Saturday Night Live skit about Blue Öyster Cult producer Sandy Pearlman, “Little Sister” is an unworthy trifle. Homme’s vocals already ride backseat to 90 percent of Queens songs; further reducing them with an echo effect is perverse. It’s a shame, because the lead guitar is inventive and unique, like a bright-yellow paint smear across an otherwise drab black-and-white canvas.

4. “Go With The Flow” (2002)
A one-dimensional rocker whose one dimension gets boring after the first minute, the mass appeal of “Go With The Flow” must be explained by its catchphrase title. Maybe dudes consistently get high scores on their Wii snowboarding game when this is pumping through their Logitech speakers. When I’m not busy being an expert on Queens Of The Stone Age, I’m talking to Jesse Hughes about what makes a good guitar riff: It has to go away, then come back. This one never goes away.

5. “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer” (2000)
I’m not gonna buzzkill the genius move of beginning a major-label debut with a song whose sole lyrics are “Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol” (and sometimes “cocaine”). I just think those drugs are overrated. How about some Elavil, dextromethorphan (cough syrup), Feminax or Tramadol? C’mon, people, let’s be creative here.

The Five Most Underrated Queens Of The Stone Age Songs
1. “Burn The Witch” (2005)
When Homme told me—that’s me, not you—that he wanted Lullabies To Paralyze to sound like “an army of retards and rejects marching over the hill,” I have no doubt this is the song he had in mind. Sloth from Goonies, Dumbo the elephant and Brick Tamland are killing it on this track. Overall, Lullabies To Paralyze failed to complete its spooky, woodsy, Germanic vision, but “Burn The Witch” puts it all in the cauldron and lets it boil. Here’s an UNKLE remix of the track, too—it was on the Saw II soundtrack. One of the taglines for Saw II was “Oh, yes. There will be blood.”

“Burn The Witch (UNKLE Remix)”:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/BurnTheWitchUnkleRemix.mp3

2. “Regular John” (1998)
The Queens’ self-titled debut effectively ended stoner rock even as it celebrated the microgenre’s sound in a way that Fu Manchu and Monster Magnet never dreamed of doing. Homme’s natural inclination toward melodic vocals instantly made QOTSA a “pop” concern, while the album’s robotically tilled sludge declared, “Move over, refrigerators. Here’s what’s cool.” Opening track “Regular John” is a motorik riff that’s been taken out of its sterile krautrock laboratory and partied with.

3. “God Is In The Radio” (2002)
Lanegan’s finest turn as a Queens vocalist isn’t wasted here; “God Is In The Radio” also features an array of fake endings, most notably a fadeout that comes back to life and eats your brain. Even within the same album, “The Real Song For The Deaf” also stops, then comes back. Remember what Hughes said about going away and coming back?

4. “Autopilot” (2000)
Of the many gifts given to erstwhile bassist Nick Oliveri by Homme, the assignment of vocal duties on “Autopilot” was a diamond tennis bracelet from Zales, the key to a Lexus parked on the front lawn and a Fruit Flowers bouquet all wrapped in one package. As sedate and beautiful a song as the band ever recorded. Those who lament the loss of “spontaneity” brought to the table by Oliveri ought to reconsider what usually happened when he went in the other direction; as Oliveri shouts his way through “Quick And To The Pointless” a few tracks later on Rated R, it’s apparent that he’s having a party, and he’s the only one invited.

5. “Give The Mule What He Wants” (1998)
Being so knowledgeable about Queens Of The Stone Age is making me tired. Kyuss drummer Alfredo Hernandez makes this track; commence air-drumming at 0:26. Homme once told me he thought Hernandez was a mix between AC/DC’s Phil Rudd and both the drummers from Devo … and that makes no sense to me. I didn’t know Devo had two drummers. Or maybe Homme meant two non-simultaneous drummers, like Alan Myers and David Kendrick. Or maybe it just sounded cool.

—Matthew Fritch

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