Album review: Queens of the Stone Age – "Queens of the Stone Age" (re-issue)

Re-issues are a touchy subject to some. Who decides whether or not an album is deserving of a 2nd look? Does an album have to be a runaway hit and become hard to find in order for it to be deemed re-issue worthy or is it more that later success in a band’s career may assist earlier recordings in being resurrected from obscurity? In the case of Queens of the Stone Age it is more so the latter than the former.

Josh Homme, the lead singer, guitarist and mastermind behind Queens of the Stone Age seems to be popping up all over the place. He seems to be the journeyman of heavy music involving himself in as many projects as he can including The Eagles of Death Metal and Them Crooked Vultures with fellow omnipresent rocker Dave Grohl – a friend and former Queens of the Stone Age drummer appearing on their 2002 release “Songs for the Deaf”. To many this is where QOTSA started to be a band to watch. The song “No One Knows” was an oft played bona fide college radio hit that introduced their hard driving sound to the masses. That album, though, is much more polished and “radio-friendly” than their first, self-titled release. The self-titled release features the stripped down sound that later efforts blossomed into.

Each song on this first effort espouses a simple formula that drills one riff into the ground with little to no variation at all. Homme is a prolific riff-writer; it seems as though he can go on for days at a time churning out short little ideas one after the other. Think of krautrock mixed with metal. There are super crunchy guitars that present highly repetitive motifs that surge ahead like a freight train. Most of the songs on this first release really are one idea, one riff, pounded to death like a jackhammer into the ground. The riffs that comprise the songs are, more often than not, short little snippets, some only a measure long. It seems that the band is transfixed by them, and as a listener I can only just turn it up all the way and bob my head in time, equally transfixed. At times the idea that is the foundation of a song will be moved up and down the guitar, but the accent and rhythm remain unchanged. It’s as if they are trying to shake the idea loose but are unable, or unwilling to completely let go.

Queens of the Stone Age
Queens of the Stone Age "Queens of the Stone Age"

The guitar tone is pure and clear with a perfectly buzzy heavy sound while the solos tear through with laser like precision. The band, as a unit, locks into a mode where they feel like an unstoppable machine or like a tank bearing down on you slowly and there is no way to stop them. The lead lines are matched in their clean, laser like precision by Homme’s voice that is unmistakeable; cutting right across everything. The vocals sit somewhere between a monotonous drone and a sweetly sung melody that help to balance out the hard driving effect of the rest of the band. The whole package works so well and has a unique sort of balance to it.

With re-issues it is almost expected that there are at least one or two bonus tracks that were previously unreleased. Such is the case here and we are given the tracks “These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For” which is nearly a complete throwaway and “The Bronze”, which starts out sounding like Van Halen’s “Little Guitars” before opening up into a full on rocker. Final bonus track “Spiders and Vinegaroons” is a bit too lengthy and wandering, clocking in at over 6 minutes which is far more than this band is capable of holding our attention for. The track does lead nicely into the equally trippy and incoherent “I Was a Teenage Hand Model”, which takes us completely out of the zone of heavy riffage and more so into the realm of a hangover followin a night of hard partying.

This first release shows us where Queens of the Stone Age began, as an idea, as an exercise in heavy riffs and minimalist motorik repetition. It is good to see these ideas taking shape and developing into something more fully formed on later releases and even finding their way onto the radio. Josh Homme’s non-stop work ethic has become turned him into a one man revolution in hard rock.