Formed out of the ashes of stoner rock demigods KYUSS, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE has been branded with the "stoner" tag themselves over the course of their two previous albums, even though the band's work features far more diversity and atmosphere than the usual smoked-out sludge that most stoner rock ends up being. The truth is that QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE is one of the most original heavy rock bands to emerge in the last half decade, and not only is Songs For The Deaf a masterful monument to their daring and creativity, it's also one of the finest rock albums of the year.
The QUEENS — a loose collective led by singer/guitarist Josh Homme and bassist Nick Oliveri, with occasional vocals from ex-SCREAMING TREES frontman Mark Lanegan — cannot be labeled metal, punk, stoner rock, or psychedelia. Instead, their sound – a dense, heavy, yet shimmering stew of thick guitars, subdued vocals (except for Oliveri's hardcore screaming) and boogie-rock rhythms – incorporates all those styles with flair and dexterity. On Songs For The Deaf, the band is improved even more by the dazzling drumming of Dave Grohl, making his return to the kit for the first time since recording the first FOO FIGHTERS album and showing why he is one of the most underrrated skinsmen in rock.
The album kicks off with a bizarre intro that carries over into several spoken interludes scattered throughout the album, all of which take jabs at the current state of commercial radio. Oddball upon first listen, the snippets provide a framework for the record without being overly conceptual. The first real song is "Millionaire", a blazing, all-out blast of punk metal that's one of the heaviest tunes the QUEENS have ever recorded. "No One Knows" follows, its shuffling rhythm and loping riff melding seamlessly with Homme's world-weary vocals.
Gem after gem follows, from the harsh "Song For The Dead" to the surreal "Sky Is Falling" to "Just Another Love Song", Sixties psychelic rock filtered through THE CURE. Despite their many flourishes, however, the QUEENS consistently rock out with a reckless abandon that's missing from much of today's corporate rock "product."
The album may be titled Songs For The Deaf (and there's surely an obscure in-joke in there somewhere), but the bottom line is that you'd have to really be hard of hearing to not appreciate the uniqueness of this band. Cult favorites since their formation, the QUEENS finally deserve to become part of rock royalty.