ALBUM REVIEW: Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains

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The fascinating evolution of Joshua Homme continues on this, the band’s seventh album. He’s spoken of not wanting them to become a parody of their own original sound and if you rewind back to Regular John, the opening track on their self-titled debut it sounds positively primitive and a million miles away from how they sound now. Back then he was peddling Kyuss mark II but it didn’t take long for the cogs of creativity to start spinning forward, gaining momentum with each new album.

Villains comes at the point where Homme has a fanbase who have grown with him and accept and delight in his darker moodier excursions, equally as much as they pine for the heavy stoner fuzz rock of lore. For the most part Villains eschews the slow and shadowy songs and goes straight for the hips with a kind of glam boogie, rock sound. With Mark Ronson producing, they’ve clearly focused on rhythm and groove, pulling in funk elements and colouring them with effect-laden guitars, handclaps and Homme less in croon mode and embracing his inner pop strut. That isn’t to say it doesn’t rock. The last minute of The Evil Has Landed is prime QOTSA riffage, a straightening of their sound that jolts the listener back to an almost nostalgic place. The way the band have arranged the songs is testament to their ability to add detail in the music. Counter melodies constantly splinter off and collide with one another as the rhythm section tumbles on like a musical robot gone AWOL.

This is bereft of the couple of top-shelf songs it would need to be up there with their best albums but Villains is for the most part a fascinating and dizzying prog rock collision of Devo, ZZ Top and Bowie.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails @ Qantas Credit Union Arena, Sydney (06/03/14)

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Eschewing the trend of recent years for hard rock bands to base their touring around festivals such as Soundwave and to a lesser extent Big Day Out, Josh Homme and Trent Reznor decided they could have more fun and deliver a better show for the fans by teaming up as a double-headed alt-rock tag team and playing ten arena shows across Australasia. Who would play first, would there be a strong crossover appeal for fans of each band, would they collaborate on-stage and which band would reign supreme at kicking out the proverbial jams?

Brody Dalle, (The Distillers, Spinnerette, wife of Homme) hit the stage early at 7pm and set about playing a no-frills, punk rock set featuring old songs and a preview of tracks from her forthcoming solo album. There wasn’t much stage presence happening and the songs did tend to blend into one another with the buzzsaw guitars, pounding drums and Dalle’s Courtney Love-esque raspy snarl of a voice. It was a solid but unimpressive performance that paled in comparison to what came next.

Nine Inch Nails had drawn the short straw on the coin toss to determine the playing order (presuming Reznor would prefer to play last) and after a super quick changeover the lights blacked out and Qantas Credit Union Arena was transformed into a mechanistic cyber disco with Reznor cast as a futuristic Travolta whose job was to overload senses and fuse musical genres.

NIN are of course the sonic limbs of Reznor, such is the large cast of players that have passed through its ranks and tonight he used the band members in different configurations to suit the songs.  Some songs featured live drums, others had pre-preprogrammed loops while the drummer stepped out to play bass with the other two instrumentalists. It really was a huge sound for so few on-stage musicians which was a testament to Reznor’s ability to create mood and dynamics in his music and translate that to the stage with all the tricks and tools of live performance. They opened with A Warm Place before the metallic stomp of Somewhat Damaged really ignited the arena and Reznor and co set about pulling from all corners of their discography, from Pretty Hate Machine up to the recently released Hesitation Marks, a spread of nearly 25 years of music.

The combination of the primarily white, strobing lighting, stark stage set and Reznor’s prowling, bouncing and at times messianic presence gave the performance the intensity he is renowned for, whether it was the industrial or electronic sides of NIN. The nineteen song set did a brilliant job at capturing those two aspects of their sound. From the Giorgio Moroder-ish disco thrum of Copy of A to the monstrous metallic riffing of Wish, Reznor showed what a strange and unique world he has created where dark, subterranean themes are wrapped in the sound of disparate influences such as Ministry and Depeche Mode with fans lapping up it all up with equal verocity.

The peak of the set came with the closing tracks Head Like A Hole, in all its surging, anthemic glory and Hurt, probably Reznor’s finest song and delivered with real passion and intensity. Those qualities defined NIN’s performance and left the rewarded crowd energised and buzzing as they scattered to drinks queues and toilets before Homme and gang swaggered on stage.

There was obviously discussion about each act’s stage setup in order to create contrast between the two as Queens of the Stone Age played in a tight formation in front of colour-matching amps and a giant video screen that rose from the stage to the roof. Immediately the difference between the two acts became apparent. NIN is dystopian, nihilist head music whereas QOTSA is a looser groove, from the hips with bluesy swagger and rock ‘n’ roll nonchalance. Second song in they unleashed the monolithic chopping riff of No One Knows, possibly igniting the biggest cheer of the night. It was a masterful move to play the song so early as from there on in the crowd were in the palm of their hands. The rest of the set showcased last year’s …Like Clockwork album with seven of it’s tracks with If I Had A Tail, I Sat By The Ocean and My God Is The Sun in particular already sounding like established QOTSA classics. A mid-set highlight was Make It Wit Chu, that soulful, falsetto hookworm of a song that had the arena getting their groove on and singing along in full voice as the band stripped the song bare and built it back up into a sexy ramalama rave before poisoning the sweetness with the grinding, flagellating riffs of Sick, Sick, Sick.

Homme was the consummate frontman, solid, composed and hitting the notes and when the music required it, flailing, lurching and tearing solos from his guitar strings. “How the fuck are ya Sydney?” was a favourite laconic phrase and when he introduced the band and their instruments in comic style he gave us “Hi, I’m Joshua, I’m on tequila”, raising a glass to friends and fans.

Opening the encore Homme caressed the keys for the haunting The Vampyre of Time And Memory which stood out amid all the rock bluster before they upped the frenzy with the punk blast of Feel Good Hit Of The Summer complete with Homme chastising the crowd for their sing-along sounding like Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. A segue into the gloriously deconstructed, disorientating stop-start A Song For The Dead and the audience were left sonically battered and bruised after 3 hours of modern rock from two different acts, both firing on all cylinders. It mattered little that there were no onstage collaborations as NIN and QOTSA made the double headline bill feel like such a special event, making the format an unequivocal winning formula.

Chris Familton

this review was first published on FasterLouder

ALBUM REVIEW: Queens of the Stone Age | …Like Clockwork

By Chris Familton

Rating7.5square-600Just over a decade after their defining and most successful album Songs For Deaf, Josh Homme and gang return with their sixth studio record in the highly anticipated …Like Clockwork. Since that 2002 peak the band have increasingly explored darker, more eclectic musical territory and while much of it was brave, genre defying and often fascinating there was always the nagging question of when they would get back to doing what they do best – making inventive, riff-based, slightly askew rock.

…Like Clockwork does reclaim some of that swinging brutal efficiency but only in small doses. The  surprisingly concise album (46 minutes) takes a brace of different ideas and strips them back to their bare essentials. As well as the heavy riffing of album highlights My God Is The Sun and Keep Your Eyes Peeled Homme indulges in melodic balladry with the Floydian title track, the Guns ‘n’ Roses drama of The Vampyre Of Time & Memory, the Trent Reznor assisted prog-leaning Kalopsia and perhaps the most surprising guest appearance in Elton John who contributes vocals and piano on the Wings-esque Fairweather Friends. Even though the guest list is an impressive one on top of regular collaborators like Dave Grohl and Mark Lanegan, QOTSA still sound like QOTSA. The other musicians all add integral elements but there are no spotlit solos or grandstanding; their input at all times serves the greater good of the song, texturally and/or melodically.

While half a dozen of the album tracks are right up there with the best Homme has penned the standard of excellence doesn’t carry through the entire record. Smooth Sailing feels like a great riff stretched out to make a lesser song and Kalopsia is a hotchpotch of ideas that work individually but not cohesively as a song. Where it does work the best is on If I Had A Tail a song that incorporates Homme’s insouciant swagger and playfulness that feeds into a rock solid beast of a chorus before hitting a strange desert disco where truck drivers dance to ZZ Top covering the Bee Gees. It has a fluidity and maddeningly catchy groove that balances all the elements of Homme’s sun baked approach to the possibilities of rock music. He does the same thing on My God Is The Sun, largely built on Michael Shuman’s growling, pummeling bass lines. It is a much straighter song than If I Had A Tail but it still takes minor diversions into twisting mutant riff variants that keep it alive and kicking.

…Like Clockwork doesn’t match the wide-stance bravado of Songs For The Deaf or the wired ‘Kyuss through a pop prism’ rawness of Rated R but it does present an economical world view of Queens of the Stone Age and the range of Homme’s musical imagination. It is hard to think of any other rock band currently producing records that straddle classic and avant rock so seamlessly. For that they should be applauded and appreciated as a group still breathing life into the too often stale corpse of modern rock.

this review was first published on UnderTheRadar

NEWS: Triple J announces TV concert series…

 

Australian youth market conglomerate Triple J are sticking by their mission statement to get music to the masses with the announcement of a run of televised concerts every Tuesday @ 10.15pm on ABC2. Kicking things off is Cut Copy’s recent Sydney Opera House show but the highlight should be the Queens of the Stone Age gig which we were in attendance and can attest to its greatness…

triple j presents schedule:

13 September – Cut Copy (Sydney Opera House)

20 September – Queens of the Stone Age (Enmore Theatre, Sydney)

27 September – Seeker Lover Keeper (Notes, Enmore, Sydney)

4 October – Mark Ronson & The Business Intl. (Enmore Theatre, Sydney)

11 October – Architecture in Helsinki (The Metro, Sydney)

18 October – Foster the People (The Metro, Sydney)

25 October – Art vs Science (One Night Stand, Tumby Bay)

1 November – The Jezabels (One Night Stand, Tumby Bay)

8 November – Drapht (Enmore Theatre, Sydney)

15 November – Birds of Tokyo (One Night Stand, Tumby Bay)

22 November – Stonefield (Oxford Art Factory, Sydney)

29 November – Sparkadia (The Metro, Sydney)

LIVE REVIEW: Queens Of The Stone Age @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney (02/03/11)

written by Chris Familton

Apart from a few diversions on recent albums, Queens Of The Stone Age have been one of the more consistent rock bands of the last 13 years and to celebrate the journey so far the band decided to treat us to a run through of their landmark self-titled debut album. Of course there was the obligatory encore to add a handful of tracks from other parts of their career but hearing a band playing an album that was so fully formed and laid down the template for the sound they would refine and build on over the next decade was glorious thing to behold.

Melbourne’s Calling All Cars had the early evening support slot and set about making a raucous and at times impressive name for themselves. On record they sound like a run of the mill, angsty alt-rock band pushing for radio-play but don’t dismiss them entirely (unless that is your thing) as they take their sound up a notch with a heavier and more aggressive live sound. They have a touch of Shihad about them in the way they build riffs over a reliable and simple rhythms and in fact Shihad’s Tom Larkin manages and produces them. Frontman Haydn Ing knows all the right rock moves which do tend to drag them into cliche territory – not helped by some vacuous lyrics. They did the job well though, softening the eardrums of the swelling crowd and getting them in the mood to rock.

QOTSA strode onstage amid a set draped in curtained archways with sketches and diagrams of Kennedy’s assassination. I’m not sure of the connection to their first album, if any, but it looked great, making the stage look like some burnt out basement or catacomb. Of course the set list was no surprise with the familiar chords of Regular John building the tension before drummer/beast Joey Castillo flicked the switch and the crowd started to bounce. It is one of the most Kyuss-sounding of their early songs so it was fitting opening track, bridging the gap between that legendary band and Josh Homme’s leap forward.

Avon tumbled with precision while the soaring ‘doo doo doos’ soared above the twisting and chopping guitars. It was the first sign of Homme’s songs taking on stronger melodic tendencies and allowing his songs to swing hips instead of just nodding heads. If Only was a glorious glam boogie while that long repeating outro to Walkin’ On The Sidewalks was so relentlessly brutal it was almost a disappointment when it ended.

Homme seemed to be in fine spirits – quite literally in fact – as he swigged on a bottle of vodka before handing it to the front row to finish off. There were playful half smiles between band members – especially Homme and guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen – and the frontman wasn’t afraid to shake and shimmy like some curious blend of Chuck Berry and Prince while peeling off those trademark riffs and solos. He was having so much fun that at one point he even threatened to finish his vodka by doing a handstand and sticking the bottle up his arse.

The added surprise to the first album run through was the addition of soaring b-side The Bronze before they returned to the job at hand. Mexicola was a brilliant mix of bullish metallic riffing and Homme’s distinct vocal making it one of the heaviest and most satisfying moments of the night. The instrumental Hispanic Impressions sounded very Them Crooked Vultures while a switch around with the last two tracks of the album meant a more rocking ending with Give The Mule What He Wants.

With the crowd still high on adrenalin and baying for an encore QOTSA returned to hit us with a 4 song finale that included the deep and sexy croon of Make It Wit Chu from Era Vulgaris and a blistering version of Rated X’s Little Sister that brought the biggest cheer of the night. Finishing with Go With The Flow they knew how to end on a high, embracing the mantra ‘always leave the crowd wanting more’. The Enmore audience were nothing if not persistent in their demands for a 2nd encore with virtually no-one leaving for 20 minutes, hoping that Homme would decide on a few more songs before he got to his next vodka bottle. Alas it wasn’t to be and it didn’t really matter as QOTSA had just delivered one of the most uplifting, sexy and exhilarating rock shows that we’ll see this year.

this review first appeared on FasterLouder