Capitalizing on the successful fusion of heavy fuzz riffage and modest pop appointments that characterized the band's year 2000, Rated R, Queens of the Stone Age have turned out a commanding new collection that appeals to the head as well as the gut. Metal nuts and headbangers will appreciate the album's many visceral moments, while those with more refined sensibilities will dig the album's surprising dynamics, textures and pop-influenced hooks.
Songs for the Deaf (Interscope) is the third album in a sonic and thematic progression that started in 1998 with the band's self-titled debut. Though by no means a concept album, it is, on one level at least, a scathing commentary on modern commercial radio with the 14 tracks randomly interspersed with radio inter-station buzz and faux-chatter.
The songs are ferocious and pounding but are hewn with obvious attention to subtle and oft-overlooked details like melody, harmony and humor. Joining stalwarts guitarist Josh Homme and bassist Nick Oliveri are Dave Grohl on drums and ex-Screaming Trees Mark Lanegan helping out on guitar, vocals and songwriting. Homme's voice is one of the most interesting, unconventional and, yeah, sexy in heavy rock -- able to leap from a growl into a smooth falsetto at a moment's notice. He also values restraint over excess in the guitar department, despite the fact that he packs a hell of a lot of punch into a relatively small space with his short, blistering leads and bursts of feedback. And man, those big sludgy riffs have never sounded better. The production here is crisp and dry: drums, heavier-than-thou guitars and vocals, are all well defined.
The tormented opening cut -- road music for the highway to hell -- is followed by the crooning vocals and skin-tight power chords of "No One Knows." "Go With the Flow" is one of the album's most satisfying cuts, with a terrific backbeat, driving keyboard signature and walls of guitar drone 'n' howl backing Homme's rich vocals. "God is in the Radio" is the only track that seems to directly address radio's insidious power to influence and anesthetize.
Songs for the Deaf shreds. With it, the Queens have taken heavy rock -- a genre frequently dismissed as regressive -- to a place it rarely goes while dispatching the most mind-numbing hard rock conventions to the crumbling pages of history where they so deservedly belong.