Queens of the Stone Age

R (Interscope)

Here's where Josh Homme and the gang forget about their Stone Age evolution from Kyuss and start making the "Queen" part of the name count for something. Just like a baked version of Sheer Heart Attack, songs run together with no gaps in between, making each installment seem stranger than the one before it. But panic not, there are no fruity Puccini tributes here, just a collection of songs that fit into either the "trance" or "tantrum" category. If you enjoy alternating between floating blissfully downstream and having your boat flip over while careening down the rapids, this is the ideal carnival cruise for you. Ain't we got fun?

The band earns its self-imposed "R" rating right off the bat with the sure-fire airplay magnet "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," which pummels along militantly to this happy mantra: "Nicotine, Valium, Percodan, marijuana, Ecstasy and alcohol" before taking a break for "ccc-ccc-ccc-cccc-cccc-co-CAINE!" Quite simply, it's the best summer song to cause belated parental concern since "School's Out," and it's got that bad role model Rob "Do It" Halford singing back-up vocals. If one kid jumps into an empty pool this summer, this is the lot the parents surely will try to sue.

That number neatly dovetails into a vibraphone shuffle with paranoid tendencies called "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret." This is only the second album where Homme has assumed lead singing duties, and here he exudes more confidence than last album's transitional Cobain-al mumbling. And he's secure enough to have old friend Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees do a lead vocal turn on the Chili Pepperish ballad "In the Fade."

QOTSA celebrates with the feel good hit of the summer . . . of drugs, that is.
QOTSA celebrates with the feel good hit of the summer . . . of drugs, that is.

Bassist Nick Oliveri co-writes the bulk of songs this time out, and his maniacal lunatic shrieking on "Quick and to the Pointless" and "Tension Head" deserves an all-expenses-paid week at a funny farm of his choice.

Clearly, QOTSA is relishing its self-appointed mission of screwing with people's heads, tossing in cheerleader background vocals, droning keyboards, handclaps and scale-bereft guitar solos like so much glitter confetti. And it all works because the band backs it up with power and hooks. In keeping with QOTSA's "less is more" aesthetic, most songs clock in under three and a half minutes, but fans of Kyuss' epic song structures will find refuge in "Better Living Through Chemistry." So too in the album's closer, "I Think I Lost My Headache," an eight-and-a-half-minute endurance test of monotony and repetitive horns that proves the only way you successfully lose a headache is giving it to someone else.

 
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