Queens of the Stone Age has always been about the harmony of band members and how well the ever-changing lineup fit together. Coming from the ashes of Kyuss - a band who used excessive distortion, severely downtuned guitars, slow tempos, weird/humorous lyrics, and copious amounts of hallucinogens to create a new kind of music christened “stoner rock” -, the Queens combined influences from their previous band with a slightly poppier sound, one that was more easily accessed. Their debut self-titled album and "Rated R" were both true to the Queens' stoner-rock roots, mainly because of the partnership of lead guitarist and singer Josh Homme and bassist Nick Oliveri. For 2002's "Songs for the Deaf", former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl was brought into the mix. His addition took away some of the dreamy marijuana overtones and gave the album a harder hitting sound.
On the Queens' latest album, "Lullabies to Paralyze", neither Oliveri nor Grohl are present. One would think this would allow Josh Homme to play the music he alone wants to play, and one would be right. Unfortunately, Homme is not all that great on his own.
The singer mentioned in various articles that he wanted this new album to have more of a sexual and night-centered sound, a little more mellow than the previous Queens albums. Unfortunately, this theme is handled awkwardly throughout most of the album.
The first half of "Lullabies to Paralyze" isn't too disappointing. The album begins with "This Lullaby", a short acoustic ballad sung by Mark Lanegan, a recurring bandmember with a voice reminiscent of Tom Waits. The next two songs, "Medication" and "Everybody Knows That You Are Insane", will be appreciated by fans of previous Queens albums. They are simple Josh Homme fare: one hooky riff with variations to keep the listener interested (this technique was once described by Homme as “robot rock”). But, in comparing these songs to the rest of the album, it seems that these songs were placed at the beginning of the album to draw old fans in.
"Tangled Up In Plaid" also harks back to the previous album, "Songs for the Deaf". It focuses on more percussive sounds and less on melody. It trounces along at a slower pace than the previous two, but manages to stay interesting.
"Burn The Witch" is one of the standout tracks on the album. A tale of the Salem witch trials from the perspective of the accusing little girls, “Burn The Witch” tries to combine the driving beats of "Songs for the Deaf" with the stoner weirdness of "Rated R" and the eponymous album. The fuzzy bassline and marching beat evoke images of a town mob wielding torches and dragging innocents away. Plus, it features ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, which never, ever hurts. Gibbons’ bluesy guitar style gives the song a taste of sneering, spiteful evil.
The next track, "In My Head", is a letdown after the mastery of the previous song. It is mediocre filler-material. The song’s repetition gets tedious after about a minute and just ends up being annoying. Fortunately, right after it comes another one of the album’s standout tracks, "Little Sister".It's quick, hard, and rocks the cowbell. The "robot rock" again stands out on this one, but instead of being tedious, Homme manages to make his repetitive riffs insanely catchy. He also shows off his chops during the solo.
And right after "Little Sister", the steam runs out.
The latter half of the album sounds as if Homme and his crew had forgotten how to really punch through with their songs. They try to balance the rock with the “sex and twilight” theme and fail. "I Never Came" is a slower track, but it doesn’t succeed like “Tangled Up In Plaid” did. It drags on, and goes absolutely nowhere for about four minutes.
The supposed "main" track on the album, "Someone's In The Wolf", almost makes it, but just can't seem to climb that last step. Its blasting riff is great, and gradually becomes less and less great until it loses its punch. The song relies heavily on the creepy theme of the album, which works – for about half the song. “Someone’s…” could have been another standout, and should have, but it drags on too long.
The next two tracks, “The Blood Is Love” and “Skin on Skin” also rely too heavily on the “theme” of the album. “The Blood Is Love” has a good riff, but once again Homme drags the song on too long. The almost-threateningly sleazy “Skin on Skin” lays on some of the deliciously screamy guitar work from “Songs for the Deaf” but still lapses back into mediocrity when the solo ends.
Fortunately, the album gets its second wind with the last two songs. "You've Got A Killer Scene There, Man" tones down the sleaze and manages to be more smoky than slutty. The band takes blues guitar and injects it with 200% sex juice. One can imagine backup singers in slinky satin dresses swaying to the beat (the roles of which are filled by Shirley Manson of Garbage and Brody Dalle of The Distillers), dim red light, and excessive cigarette smoke.
The last track on the album, "Long Slow Goodbye", lets the listener down easy. The lap steel guitar in this song seems to float just above the music. It's the musical equivalent to watching a car drive off over the salt flats into the sunset.
In comparison to previous albums, “Lullabies to Paralyze” doesn’t really impress. It tries to introduce a new feel to old, successful music, which just doesn’t fit. But standing alone, it’s not bad.
Not great, but not bad.