Thursday, September 20, 2007

Objective Opinions Are For Wimps And Nerds

Note: Era Vulgaris came out a while ago. Some of these posts are old ones that I'm transferring from my Facebook account so they may not be entirely relevant. Hopefully they're still entertaining though.

I always liked the idea of Mastermind. Nearly everyone I know is a fountain of knowledge on some subject, be it Dr. Who, Science Fiction Novels of the 15th Century or every word ever uttered about Harry Potter. They find a subject that’s of no use in the real world, and amass all the trivia and information they can about it. Let’s be honest, this information serves no real purpose apart from in the occasional pub quiz question and if you ever get asked on to Mastermind. Both noble causes, but unlikely to sustain a growing lad on their own.

The area of trivial research I specialise in myself is the musical works of Josh Homme. Since I first became aware of the groups Queens of the Stone Age and Kyuss, I developed an unhealthy obsession with tracking down all the music and information I could to do with Josh Homme and his musical legacy. And this was in the days before you could just do a quick search on Wikipedia. I had to work hard for my research, combing literally ten different web pages and forums, harvesting information. Better days. Sure, Wikipedia has made life easier, but at what cost?

Anyway, the guy’s a musical genius. He wrote two genre-defining, seminal rock albums at the ages of 19 and 21. In my sincere opinion he hasn’t released a duff album in a music career that spans nearly 20 years. And that’s a lot of albums*. I can spout trivia about this music until people’s heads implode. It’s true, I’ve seen it happen.

So when it comes to reviewing Era Vulgaris, the new Queens of the Stone Age album, I’m going to be about as unbiased as a Man U Goalkeeper playing for an Italian Team in the Eurasian Trophy semi-finals*. But being biased is underrated. Hopefully. Moving on… Era Vulgaris is the fifth QOTSA album to date, following on from the good but not as good as it should have been Lullabies to Paralyze. Overall, Era Vulgaris is a much more confident and slick album.

All the best QOTSA tunes are the ones that setup a simple but original and immediately catching riff that causes involuntary rock vibrations in the hip and head area. It’s hard rock, but it’s not just smashing out the same chords in a rock by numbers fashion, with angsty vocals over the top. QOTSA has always experimented with different sounds, techniques and styles to great effect and they make it look as easy and smooth as hitting a jukebox in the right place to play a tune. Era Vulgaris is no exception. It opens with the bizarrely laid back Turnin’ the Screw. It’s the high pitched, slightly spooky riff that’s so distinctively QOTSA, the nicely judged chorus and weird change of pace that sets the album up nicely. Then you get hit from all sides. One minute there’s the non-stop punk rock stylings of Sick, Sick, Sick, the next I Wanna Make It Wit Chu, which wouldn’t be out of place on Jools Holland.

As always Homme has more originality and talent in his little finger than nearly every other rock group out there. The time between Lullabies and Era Vulgaris has been spent working on that haunting, slightly more electronic sound that was hinted at before but never quite done properly, so now the whole album has a sound to it that is like emerging from the woods into some seedy neon city of the not too distant future. It's slightly confusing and often disturbing but also hypnotic and intoxicating. You could scrape the dirt and grime encrusted in these songs out with a shovel. Which is what all the best rock music is like. That dirty, hedonistic sound that makes you want to fuck, drink and take drugs. Even if you are a 33 year old accountant from Croydon. Homme’s known that since he started, which is why his records reek of it and why he’s so good at what he does.

Of course it isn’t just one man. Troy Van Leeuwen on guitars and other assorted instruments and Joey Castillo on drums are as solid as always. Castillo especially continues to get stronger. Following on from Dave Grohl was a challenge, but now not only is the scariest looking bastard alive (always a good drummer look) but he's also developed a distinctive and fitting drumming style, check out Suture Up Your Future and Run Pig Run especially.The album feels a lot more collaborative than Lullabies did following the loss of Nick Olivieri on bass, and most of the credit for that has to go not only to the contributions of others but also to the welcome return of Chris Goss. All the best albums of QOTSA and Kyuss were produced under the watchful eye of Chris Goss. He and Homme seem to share a real musical understanding and it’s a great thing that he’s back behind the sound desks.

Any fears that Queens of the Stone Age were starting to lose their touch have been dispelled with Era Vulgaris. QOTSA still seem to be about ten thousand light-years ahead of every other rock group, but what would I know? I’m just the guy with a school girl’s crush on a tall ginger rock star. I luv u Josh!!!!!!!

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