Put Up Your Dukes: Queens Of The Stone Age

Queens3Two of MAGNET’s Matts—editor Matthew Fritch and writer Matt Ryan—go to the mat to see whose opinion is more correct. Today’s topic: Queens Of The Stone Age. Put up your dukes!

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch
As you know, I’ve been following Josh Homme’s career from the early Kyuss days through the various incarnations of the Desert Sessions and Queens Of The Stone Age. I’ve interviewed him three times and have written of him in glowing terms. With that said, it’s become increasingly difficult to be a fan these days. In fact, I’m starting to think I’m no longer up to the task. To these ears, Homme is in a very deep rut with his epileptic robot shtick, which reached its nadir with the perfectly awful Era Vulgaris. Still, given the players and a promising first single, my hopes were very, very high for Them Crooked Vultures, Homme’s supergroup with Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones. Having just given the full album a listen, however, I’ve concluded that Homme could have Alex Chilton and Paul McCartney on his writing team and still be incapable of producing a memorable hook.

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
You had high hopes for Them Crooked Vultures? Really? Since the demise of Led Zeppelin 30 years ago, John Paul Jones has, um … hold on … let me Wiki it … done some solo stuff and collaborated with Jars Of Clay and the singer from Toad The Wet Sprocket. Dave Grohl? He doesn’t have a lot of credit left at the creative bank right now. (He made some early withdrawals and invested really wisely; so don’t worry about him, he’s set for life.) So if you’re disappointed by Them Crooked Vultures, there’s plenty of blame to go around. I don’t think that everything Homme touches is gold (read my QOTSA Over/Under piece), but his Queens output is about as solid as any rock band’s over the last decade. You’ll have to tell me what’s “perfectly awful” about the punchier Era Vulgaris. As for the Vultures release, can we agree that being disappointed in that album is like being mad at the low quality of, say, Desert Sessions Vol. 4? It’s the man’s nature to goof off, experiment and have fun with recordings.

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch

Admittedly, Jonesy hasn’t been on the front pages for, um, a few decades, but that doesn’t diminish his legacy. With regard to Grohl, well, you’re way off base there. Yes, it’s easy to take shots at the increasingly everyman Foo Fighters (although you’ll still find them on my playlist), but you conveniently omitted the fact that Grohl is one of the best drummers in the business, a point on which there is consensus from fans, critics and musicians alike. Have you already forgotten that a Homme/Grohl collaboration resulted in the last exceptional QOTSA record, 2002’s Songs For The Deaf? On that basis alone, why would expectations be sky high for Them Crooked Vultures? Other than this golden moment, Homme’s creative well has been bone dry ever since. Yes, that includes (especially) Era Vulgaris. Have you even listened to the likes of “I’m Designer” from that record? Good god, that song makes me want to jam knitting needles into my ears. Similarly, if industrial machinery could masturbate, it would probably sound a lot like Era‘s aptly named lead-off single, “Sick, Sick, Sick.” I realize I’m somewhat contradicting myself here, slagging Homme’s musical output of the last few years, while at the same time arguing that I had high expectations for his most recent project. But I guess I had hoped that some of that old Homme brilliance would return.

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
Let’s agree to disagree on “Sick, Sick, Sick,” which I think is a pretty solid radio single with some fairly motorin’ (if not motorik) garage-rock guitars. And I’m not sure I’d characterize Songs For The Deaf as a “collaboration” between Grohl and Homme. Grohl played the drums. That’s like saying Blonde On Blonde was a collaboration between Bob Dylan and Kenneth A. Buttrey. (Sorry, drummers.) I’m tempted to paint you as a long-suffering Kyuss fan, with a cassette copy of Blues For The Red Sun tucked under your pillow. But that’s too easy. I think you’re just being impatient and misdiagnosing Homme with whatever disease Rivers Cuomo has—the one that turns a once-inspired songwriter into a rancid puddle of melted cheese. As with Dylan or Frank Black or Eric Bachmann or John Reis, you gotta hang in there and trust that Homme is going to be productive over the course of a career that outlasts dumb trends or self-inflicted indulgences. So the real questions are: When do you relinquish membership to the fan club? What formerly awesome musicians have you given up on? And do you really think Homme is at that point?

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch
Although it doesn’t advance the principal debate, I do have to take a moment to address the ridiculous implication that drummers can’t have a formative impact on classic recordings. Are you placing Grohl, John Bonham, Stewart Copeland, Neil Peart and Jimmy Chamberlain—just to name a few—in the same league as a session player? Really? Anyway, back to the matter at hand, I guess I never give up all hope on favorite songwriters who have lost their mojo. That I still hold a glimmer for Paul Westerberg should be ample evidence of that (although it is worth noting that Westerberg wasn’t that much younger than Homme is now when he broke up the ‘Mats and started his solo career, which doesn’t bode well for Josh). So, yes, while I do listen to Blues For The Red Sun more than Lullabies To Paralyze or Era Vulgaris these days, I also reserve hope that Homme has some gas left in the tank. By the way, I can’t help notice that you haven’t exactly launched a vociferous defense here. So far you’ve offered an outright slam (“You had high hopes for Them Crooked Vultures? Really?”), faint praise (“pretty solid radio single,” “fairly motorin’”) and a crack about the Desert Sessions. Search your feelings, Luke. You really agree with me, don’t you?

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
You misspelled Jimmy Chamberlin’s last name. But that’s OK—he’s still just as important to the Smashing Pumpkins as Billy Corrigan. Listen, I have enough enemies. I don’t need to add the world’s population of drummers to the list. Grohl was an excellent addition to the Queens lineup, but his presence alone didn’t make or break the songs. The band’s current drummer, Joey Castillo, is … whatever compliment drummers like to hear. An animal. A rabid caveman. That Hindu god with all the arms. But back to our main topic: I don’t feel too conflicted about Era Vulgaris. What, you don’t like Bulby and Patchy the Pirate? I enjoy the supercharged “3’s And 7’s” (as heard on Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and featuring a hook that’s memorable to just about everyone but you) as well as the fake R&B thing that is “Make It Wit Chu” (which is so much better than the fake R&B thing that My Morning Jacket does). I suspect you don’t like Homme’s recent efforts at concise rock and prefer his sprawling, droning stuff. Is that it? Era Vulgaris isn’t my favorite Queens record, but it’s hardly time to pull the plug on Homme. I get the feeling that if you were Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby, that movie would’ve been about an hour shorter.

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch
Thanks for the spell check. Guess that’s why you’re the editor with all the attendant fancy cars, drugs and high-priced call girls, while I’m just a lowly freelancer, toiling away in anonymity. The trappings of your Jay-Z lifestyle are obviously becoming a distraction, however, given your confusing comments about Homme’s “recent” efforts at concise rock. Have you not heard QOTSA’s 1998 debut? The three-minute “If Only” is not only concise, but one of the best things Homme has written. I’ll take that over any of the handful of bloated seven minute tracks on Lullabies To Paralyze any day of the week. Yes, he subsequently reined in song length on Era Vulgaris, but unfortunately, that brevity only translated to sucking for shorter periods of time. Look, I’ll make you a deal here: Admit that Homme’s recent output has been largely lackluster and I won’t unplug the respirator for another couple of years. Who knows, maybe we’ll see a miracle recovery.

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
Fine. I already admitted Era Vulgaris wasn’t the best album, and I can’t stand up for Them Crooked Vultures. Speaking of vultures, that’s exactly what you were at the beginning of this debate. You wanted to swoop down and pick apart the remains of Josh Homme. I don’t mean it to sound quite that moralistic—that’s what critics do. But the man isn’t dead. He’s just gathering strength. He’s on a swamp planet with Yoda. He’s in Siberia punching frozen meat. He’s carb-loading at Denny’s. You can’t keep this guy down. Let’s meet back here around the release date of the next Queens album and see how the patient is doing.

Comments are closed.