The kings of desert rock, Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri of Queens of the Stone Age, return with a third album that whips up a sandstorm of epic rock proportions. These dudes fuel themselves on alcohol and drugs, construct mighty psychedelic soundscapes, write some bitchin' guitar riffs and handsome harmonies -- and then sip on cocktails as the sun sinks into the horizon next to their Palm Desert recording oasis. While they are certainly well within the realm of the stoner rock genre, the Queens soar well above the '70s fashion, bass and Sabbath odes of that ilk to write fairly complex songs that couldn't simply be inspired by a bong.
Beginning with an exotic, Eastern-sounding harmony and then cracking into a grungy, repetitive groove -- with Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters' signature drum-pummeling -- "The Sky Is Falling" is one of the most pleasing entries on Songs for the Deaf. The chorus features Homme's falsetto flying higher than mere marijuana will take you. "Millionaire" is the obvious single (the Queens provide one for their major label on every record) built around a can't-miss riff that's sure to woo the heart of rock dudes everywhere and then bursting into breathy, '70s-rock "aaaaaahs," deranged screaming, hand claps and "gimme some more" lyrics. They've also included "Hangin' Tree," with Mark Lanegan singing from their more exploratory Desert Sessions series, where the Queens and their gang of hallucinating rock pals take off into more interesting directions than they do on their more down-to-earth Queens records.
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It's too bad, though, that Songs for the Deaf, like the Queens' last record, Rated R, disassembles its majestic dimensions in the less rockin' second half. And also that they've included here and there distracting sketches harping on the rotten state of radio. Perhaps, rather than simply stating that radio sucks, musicians could create a political organization that would fight the FCC and radio company consolidation. Undoubtedly, they have as much money and clout as the companies they'd be up against. Until then, the Queens will reign over their own stoned, cactus-strewn landscape with occasional clarity and the utmost fearlessness.