This past weekend was my local record show at the firehouse in scenic Wayne, New Jersey. Cobbling myself together from semi-hungover morning-after fragments, I took my two coin repositories — a dog with its tongue sticking out and a Yankee cap — to the bank: $84. Not enough money to really live large, but I was more than willing to take it. The Patient Mrs., bless her heart, waited in the car while I entered the firehouse fray. It was packed.
The dude I bought Amon Düül II‘s Carnival in Babylon from told me I should get Yeti and Wolf City too, and if he had them, I might have. I didn’t tell him I’d seen the band, it being too early for conversations of that magnitude and the generally claustrophobic air of the crowd preventing it. Beatles vinyl abounded, always tempting on an existential level, but I stuck to CDs despite eying a Sly Stone cassette and wound up with Firebird‘s Double Diamond (review here), and from a table in the back, an original issue Diary of a Madman and the first Nativity in Black Black Sabbath tribute, which I probably didn’t already own because I’ll never listen to it. Well, now I own it and I’ll never listen to it.
I picked it up because it was the third in a three-for-$10 deal with the guy selling it, and along with Diary of a Madman, the deal was rounded out by the jewel case version of Lullabies to Paralyze, by Queens of the Stone Age. I’ve owned this record since it came out. I had both the jewel case and digipak editions previously, but gave the hard plastic one away to my sister’s husband when he said he dug it. They were both promos, and I still have the digipak, but it’d been years since my last listen. Every time I get a fancypants digipak like that, the comic book collector in me comes right out. I don’t want to bend the corners.
Plus, when I’m reaching for Queens of the Stone Age — which I am not infrequently; it comes in waves — I’m usually going for the 1998 self-titled or 2002′s Songs for the Deaf. Rated R less so, but every now and again it hits the spot, and the last album (to date), 2007′s Era Vulgaris, just about never. So paying the three-and-a-third dollars for Lullabies to Paralyze was a chance to revisit these songs, which I always recall being a sucker for when the album came out, however overshadowed they may have wound up being by their Dave Grohl-infused predecessors.
Grohl‘s absence and that of bassist Nick Oliveri are all over Lullabies to Paralyze, which means that as much as it was guitarist/vocalist Josh Homme‘s stated mission to continue from where the band had left off three years earlier on Songs for the Deaf — starting with Mark Lanegan singing “This Lullaby” to the tune of Chris Goss‘ vocal on Songs for the Deaf epilogue “Mosquito Song” supports the argument of flowing one into the next — it simply wasn’t going to happen. And ultimately, it didn’t. The album’s character turned out to be more a show of Homme‘s songwriting than anything else.
And that might have more to do with Oliveri being out of the band than Grohl, who, despite being one of his generation’s finest rock drummers (and a capable songwriter to boot) probably didn’t have much to do with the construction of the actual riffs or the arrangements on Songs for the Deaf. Oliveri, on the other hand, fronted the band for that album’s opener, “Millionaire,” and comparing that to “Medication,” which seems to be going for some of the same immediacy and abrasion sonically, the effect simply isn’t the same. Homme‘s semi-blown-out approach is still no match for Oliveri‘s druggy screams, and Lullabies to Paralyze was lacking both that edge and diversity.
Not that the album didn’t have its share of diversity. From the near-bubblegum infectiousness of “In My Head” — a song that seemed to both realize and revel in how catchy it was — to the sexed-up shimmy of “Skin on Skin” and the vague threats of “‘You’ve Got a Killer Scene There, Man,’” Lullabies to Paralyze worked within a variety of moods and atmospheres, but it wasn’t the same, and in directly linking itself to Songs for the Deaf, it seemed like it wanted to be, and was confused as a result.
Performance-wise, however, it might be the best vocal outing of Homme‘s career. “Everybody Knows that You are Insane” proved early on that he could carry the band on his own, “Tangled up in Plaid” confirmed mastery of his falsetto and the smooth transitions into and out of it, and “I Never Came” showed he could convey emotion without being cartoonish or sappy. The single “Little Sister,” along with “Burn the Witch” and “Long Slow Goodbye” and “Broken Box” were affirmations of Homme‘s songcraft, and “Tangled up in Plaid” showed there was hope for life after Oliveri, featuring Alain Johannes‘ bass line as one of the album’s highlights.
But however accomplished, Lullabies to Paralyze was the point at which Queens of the Stone Age became Homme‘s and Homme‘s alone, because although Joey Castillo held his own on drums in the wake of Grohl and Troy van Leeuwen contributed on guitar amid guest performances vocal and otherwise from the likes of producer Joe Barresi, Chris Goss, Lanegan, Shirley Manson (of Garbage), Billy Gibbons (of Z.Z. Top), Jessie “The Devil” Hughes and others, it was Homme himself who emerged as the one steering the ship. More than ever before, it was easy to see Queens of the Stone Age as Josh Homme‘s band, and that became the pivotal difference between Lullabies to Paralyze and anything the group had done previously.
I don’t know if I’ll speak to the enduring appeal of the album, since however much I’ve enjoyed getting to know it again, I’ve already owned it from before it was actually released and haven’t listened to it in years, but it’s a cool record nonetheless, and probably undervalued in the QOTSA catalog for the quality of Homme‘s songwriting and what it meant in terms of the changing personality of the band. Not bad for $3, in any case.
Tags: California, Interscope, Queens of the Stone Age