The fourth album from QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE finds the ever-changing group drifting further away from the sludgy stoner rock of its immediate predecessor, the legendary KYUSS. Heavy moments still stand out on this highly-anticipated release, but "Lullabies" is probably the collective's most diverse offering yet. Nevertheless, the band still retains an unpredictable, uncompromised edge that keeps them head and shoulders above most of the harder "modern rock" bands that populate the vast wastelands of commercial rock radio.
In some ways, "Lullabies to Paralyze" is most reminiscent of the first, self-titled QUEENS album. Recorded mostly alone by founder and frontman Josh Homme, it was bathed in psychedelia and an experimental, almost hypnotic vibe that immediately set it apart from the more crushing, if narrower, sounds of KYUSS. The last two QUEENS albums — "Rated R" and "Songs for the Deaf" — found QUEENS coalescing into more of a band (around Homme and punk-lunatic bassist Nick Oliveri) and adopting a tighter, harder-hitting approach.
With "Lullabies", Homme has shaken up both the sound and structure, jettisoning Oliveri while keeping the touring core of himself, multi-instrumentalist Troy Van Leeuwen and drummer Joey Castillo (Homme ingeniously starts the record with a short vocal from Mark Lanegan, whose "departure" from the always-mutating band around the time of Oliveri's dismissal was said to be indicative of its collapse). Keeping the band's spine, yet opening it up to new voices and ideas, has brought QUEENS back to a more abstract style of playing. Songs like "'You Got a Killer Scene There, Man…'" and "The Blood Is Love" sound like extended, laconic jams, while "Skin on Skin", with its distorted horn section, and "Someone's in the Wolf" are based around odd riffs and vocal lines. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE has always placed an emphasis on grooves, but "Lullabies" contains some of the band's sultriest.
Nevertheless, there's plenty of heavy material on hand too, from the punk stylings of "Medication" and "Everyone Knows That You're Insane" to the bombastic blues stomp of "Burn the Witch". There's also pure midtempo rock and roll as well in "In My Head" and "Broken Box", two of the album's more infectious songs. Even on the more laconic tunes, like "Tangled Up In Plaid" and "Someone's in the Wolf", Homme and company are capable of generating just enough hooks to avoid getting lost in their own jam-oriented style of playing, even if the tracks on the whole are not as hard-hitting as the material on "Songs for the Deaf".
But if there's any artist out there not interested in repeating himself, it's Josh Homme, and with "Lullabies to Paralyze", he refuses simply to repeat a formula merely for commercial gain (at the band's recent New York show, they didn't even play "No One Knows", the group's breakthrough radio hit from "Songs"). While "Lullabies" may come across to some as unfocused and self-indulgent, repeated listens allow one to realize that QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE is simply going with the flow and not letting any preconceived notions compromise the music the band is now making. Most other rock group these days are too — no pun intended — paralyzed by commercial concerns to even attempt that.