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Deaf Jam

 

Queens of the Stone Age: Songs for the Deaf

Interscope, 2002

Rating: 3.5

 

 

Posted: August 31, 2002

By The Gentleman (exclusive to Shaking Through)

If any hard rock band has the musical authority to title an album Songs for the Deaf, it's Queens of the Stone Age. Building on the bedrock bottom end of their self-titled debut and 2000's Rated R, chief Queens (and former Kyuss bandmates) Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri craft a set of songs that could conceivably live up to the album title's promise. Not through overpowering metallic riffing, but rather through the rafter-rattling buzz of Oliveri's bass grooves (hammered home with propulsive force by ex-Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, who guests as drummer throughout, and lays down a percussive backbone of solid steel on "Song for the Dead"). And Homme's fuzz-guitar crackles and hums with a droning, mesmeric flair.

So why doesn't Songs for the Deaf receive a higher rating? Because as commandingly executed as the Queens' signature sound is, Deaf is little more than just a platform for that sound. The same can be said for dozens of similar bands, most notably the Melvins, but unlike the Melvins, the Queens don't set out merely to explore and expand their sound; Homme, especially, seeks to write real songs in the process.

But so far, he and Oliveri haven't quite found the happy middle ground; most of the songs on Songs, including the bracing "First It Giveth" and the moody "The Sky is Fallin'," simply fail to make much of an impression beyond the impressive murmuring-buzzsaw approach. And most of the songs that do make such an impact -- "No One Knows," "Go With the Flow" and "Another Love Song" -- are ill-advised attempts at the kind of "stoner-rock" melodicism that a less accomplished band like Fu Manchu can get away with -- in the hands of more proficient virtuosos like Homme and Oliveri, the results are an awkward fit.

Even more awkward is the so-called "hidden track" (how can it be hidden when it's announced as such on the package's track listing?). "Mosquito Song" should have been hidden; it's a wildly misinformed foray into "Dust in the Wind"-era Kansas territory, of which the less said, the better.

On a brighter note, the sorely under-utilized Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) livens things up considerably with his great gravel-throated delivery on the evocative "Hangin' Tree" and the solid "God is in the Radio," but the results are a bit like aural ketchup on bland cheese-fries; his masterful presence doesn't add to the songs so much as distract the listener from their hollow cores. Even so, a little -- hell, a lot -- more Lanegan could have bumped Songs into a higher ratings bracket for sure.

None of which is meant to paint Songs for the Deaf as a disappointment; it's not, exactly. If it finds the capable Queens coming up against the limitations of the sonic approach that is their bread and butter, it's a good problem for the band to have, especially since every indication is that it's one Homme and Oliveri should easily be able to overcome in the future. So, yes, Songs does prove a memorable listen -- just, as it turns out, a Teflon one, whose positives slide harmlessly away soon after it's finished.

 
Songs for the Curious
Rated R, the Queens' second album, is definitely worth seeking out for those interested in more of the band's work. Guest drummer Dave Grohl, it goes without saying, can be found in the back catalogs of both Nirvana and his current alt-pop-rock outfit, Foo Fighters. And those impressed by Mark Lanegan's visceral vocal style should seek out his work with Screaming Trees, notably Uncle Anesthesia, Sweet Oblivion and Dust, as well as his solo work, most notably the classic Whiskey for the Holy Ghost.

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 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
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