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Homme Alone

 

Queens of the Stone Age: Lullabies to Paralyze

Interscope, 2005

Rating: 4.0

 

Posted: March 22, 2005

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Much has been made of the fact that Josh Homme, guitarist, singer and principal songwriter for Queens of the Stone Age, evicted the band's only other constant, bassist and longtime collaborator Nick Oliveri, last year. Homme didn't get into specifics, but he's indicated that bad behavior and a certain amount of drama associated with same were behind his decision. As a result, some fans have speculated that the absence of wild-child Oliveri would rob the project of its essential rock 'n' roll spirit.

But Lullabies to Paralyze, the first Queens album since 2002's commercial and critical landmark Songs for the Deaf, suggests that those fears are largely unfounded. If the yin and yang of Queens of the Stone Age have been severed, then Lullabies lends credence to the idea that Homme may have been wise to excise Oliveri's yin -- the principle of darkness and negativity -- so that his own yang -- light, heat, motivation -- might better flourish. Homme may have celebrated "Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, Ecstasy and alcohol" in "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" from 2000's Rated R, but he apparently doesn't require those substances to create a rock album as compelling -- and at times even exhilarating -- as Lullabies.

That's not to say that Lullabies is a perfect record, or that Oliveri's presence isn't occasionally missed -- a somnambulant, second-gear song like "You've Got a Killer Scene There, Man" could have benefited from his mercurial influence and full-throttle bass. But on the whole, Homme -- with help from longtime collaborator Mark Lanegan, Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle), drummer Joey Castillo (Danzig) and even (very briefly) Shirley Manson (Garbage) and the Distillers' Brody Dalle -- has crafted a dense headphones album of thick, bottom-heavy guitar tones, woolly mammoth grooves, insinuating melodies and -- more importantly -- memorable songs.

In fact, some of the most memorable moments are more restrained than raucous, spooling out the cathartic fuzz-rock moments sparingly: "I Never Came" calmly rides a simple backbeat and subtle bassline into melodic pop-song paydirt, while "Tangled Up in Plaid" makes the most of a loopy, knotty riff and Homme's agreeable falsetto, making its pockets of hard-rock churn in the choruses all the more fist-pumpingly rewarding. And the serviceable but familiar riffage of "Everybody Knows That You're Insane" (more than a little evocative of "Feel Good Hit") is more than redeemed by the atmospheric peals of slide guitar that precede it.

It's that sense of dynamics that informs Lullabies, which alternates workmanlike rock numbers ("In My Head," "Broken Box," the cowbell-driven "Little Sister") with low-key eddies of calm ("Lullaby"); blistering rocket launchers ("Medication") with spectral jolts of melody ("I Never Came," and the intriguing highlight "Burn the Witch," featuring guitar from Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top) and sprawling, psychedelic tableaus laden with stoner-friendly effects and reserved virtuosity (the back-to-back "Someone's in the Wolf" and lingering "The Blood is Love"). Those latter numbers could easily devolve into self-absorption, but Homme has wisely taken to heart the lessons of fuzz-rock masters like Black Sabbath: Such excursions work best when firmly anchored by the muscular buzz of brawny guitar rock.

The aptly titled "Long Slow Goodbye," which effectively works a busy telephone signal into its languorous tapestry, is followed by a snippet of symphonic sweep, a kind of palette cleanser that suggests Lullabies wants to be heard as a record of steadily building majesty. But it's the magnetic push and pull of its different sonic layers and shifting moods that really defines the record (for better and worse), and rewards repeated listens.

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