For many people (this writer included), "Songs for the Deaf" remains the greatest effort yet from Josh Homme's ever-mutating horde of head-tripping rock 'n' roll decadents. Despite what must have been intense commercial pressure, however, Homme has never shown the slightest interest in repeating himself, a characteristic that extends to the QUEENS themselves: the group was an abrupt left turn away from the monolithic SABBATH-sludge of Homme's breakthrough outfit, KYUSS. With the fifth QUEENS record, "Era Vulgaris", the singer/ guitarist/ drummer/ mad scientist has once again proven that he would prefer to avoid labels altogether and is simply fascinated with the experimental possibilities of the music that he loves.
Having said that, "Era" does have more of the freewheeling spirit of earlier QUEENS albums, as well as the avant-garde mindset of the band's 1997 self-titled debut. It rocks with more energy than 2005's "Lullabies to Paralyze" and captures much more of the strangeness that was one of the QUEENS' biggest draws in the first place. Best of all, this is a raw, dirty recording that puts the guitars squarely in the forefront as Homme sneers and croons over the top, delivering some of his most diverse vocals yet.
The lazy "Turnin' On The Screw" kicks things off with a drunken series of licks before being cast aside by the furiously gritty punk of "Sick, Sick, Sick". Next up is the stop-and-start "I'm Designer", which features some of Homme's most sarcastic lyrics ever as he takes stock of the current young generation. Up next is "Into The Hollow", which begins with an ominous riff that leads naturally into some ethereal vocals and melancholy lead guitar work, all of it adding up to one of the album's eeriest tracks.
Layers and layers of fuzzed-out guitars dominate tracks like the driving "Misfit Love" and the manic "Battery Acid" before the band throws a wild curveball with the R&B-flavored "Make It Wit Chu", complete with Homme doing his best impersonation of a soul music singing group, complete with falsetto. Then it's back to the squealing guitars and disgusted, cynical vocals of "3's & 7's". Having settled into the same core band now for a couple of years (Troy Van Leeuwen on guitars and Joey Castillo on drums, with help on various instruments from Alain Johannes and a guest here and there), this version of QUEENS sounds both relaxed and tight, with Homme and Van Leeuwen's guitar interplay more creative and fluid than ever.
It still may not be my favorite QUEENS album, but "Era Vulgaris" is a solid slab of heavy, trippy rock from one of the field's most unique groups. As with almost all the band's output, it takes a few listens to truly grow on the listener, but there's plenty there to savor as it slowly sinks into your brain. The QUEENS veer from bruising to hypnotic to mournful and back again, all in the space of one record, ably demonstrating why this particular era of music needs more acts like them.