Wild Mercury Sound

Queens Of The Stone Age and "Era Vulgaris"

John Mulvey

I'm not sure we should be giving any more publicity to the bizarre media phenomenon that is Sharon Osbourne, but I couldn't resist starting today with this quote from her about Josh Homme. Homme, it seems, had the temerity to criticise Ozzfest. In response, Osbourne told Blender, "I hope he gets syphilis and dies. I hope his dick fuckin' falls off so his mother can eat it."

Nice image, thanks for that. It strikes me, though, that the ubiquity of Osbourne is something that Homme is obliquely railing against on "Era Vulgaris" (Latin for "Common Era"), the predictably excellent new Queens Of The Stone Age album. Track Three is called "I'm Designer", and features those choppy, robotic riffs which have become Homme's trademark. "The thing that's real for us is fortune and fame," he notes, "All the rest seems like work. It's just like diamonds - in shit." He then wolf whistles, perkily. Soon, the track mutates into a kind of lush, hazy psychedelic chorus, with Homme at his softest.

It's a schizophrenic trick which the Queens repeat again and again on this dense, complicated album, one which reveals its treasures in a much more insidious way than previous Queens albums. I think parts of it may sound like Devo meets "Strawberry Fields"-era Beatles, especially "I'm Designer" and the fantastic "Battery Acid". But essentially, it's a refinement - a stabilising, maybe - of Homme's intimidating talent.

There's a lot I like about the last Queens album, "Lullabies To Paralyze", but in contrast to the steely purpose of Homme's other records, it feels a bit shapeless, haphazard. "Era Vulgaris" is right back on point. There are no Nick Oliveri-shaped distractions this time round, and while a bunch of passing suspects apparently help out with backing vocals - Julian Casablancas, Billy Gibbons - the line-up feels stabler. Or as stable as a restless spirit like Homme could ever make his band, I guess.

Anyway, it's all shadowy, gripping modal boogie, as you'd hope. Some things here - "Into The Hollow" and "Misfit Love" - fit stylistically right between "Rated R" and "Songs For The Deaf". One of the most immediate tunes is "I Wanna Make It Wit Chu", an old Desert Sessions song originally sung by Lanegan, here slowed down by Homme to a louche piano vamp that reeks of late-'70s Stones. The other is "3's & 7's", riding a cranked riff so reminiscent of Nirvana that our Reviews Ed referred to it the other day as the Queens'"Song 2".

Homme's songwriting is never quite that straightforward, though, and "Era Vulgaris" is as dense, prickly and fastidious an album as he's ever made. By "River In The Road", the errant Lanegan appears to be back in the fold, lending his apocalyptic moan to a proggish sequel to "Song For The Dead". That June gig in London with the Queens and The White Stripes should be amazing. I once saw them play together in Bologna, and also witnessed Nick Oliveri sniffing Meg White's drum stool. But that's another story entirely. . .


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