Queens of the Stone Age

Lullabies To Paralyze

(Interscope; 2005)

By David M. Goldstein | 30 April 2005

I’ve got nothing but nice things to say about the guy, but rumors of the untimely demise of Queens of the Stone Age upon the sacking of founding bassist Nick Oliveri have been greatly exaggerated. The obvious lack of infantile shrieking notwithstanding, Lullabies to Paralyze doesn’t sound a heck of a lot different from the three QoTSA records that preceded it, irrespective of the fact that the bass duties are no longer being handled by an elfin creature with a cool goatee and a penchant for onstage nakedness.

Actually, that’s not giving the guy nearly enough credit; Oliveri’s minute-long shriekfests (e.g., “Six Shooter,” “Millionaire,” and “Quick and to the Pointless”) were always a good foil to Josh Homme’s more fully formed tunes, and his stellar contributions to 2002’s Songs For The Deaf were proof that he’d learned how to write an incredible rock song. But at least three-quarters of every QoTSA record was always devoted to Josh Homme’s unique brand of way fuzzy, repetitive riffage, and Oliveri’s absence simply means that Homme has to carry a little more of the load.

There are portions of Lullabies that certainly lead one to believe that Homme isn’t entirely up to the task. It’s at least three songs too long, and Homme’s once strident vocals have taken an unwelcome backseat to the proceedings: overly reliant on his falsetto and buried too deeply in an uncharacteristically muddy production job. And three of the first four songs are disturbingly unimaginative; “Tangled Up in Plaid” is a weak re-write of “No One Knows,” while “Medication” and “Everbody Knows That You Are Insane” are strictly Queens by numbers, built around the kind of repetitive riffs that Homme shits out daily.

But just when you’re starting to think that Homme has completely lost the plot without his childhood ally, things take a serious turn for the better with the groovy stomp of “Burn the Witch,” augmented by Mark Lanegan’s background growls and a surprisingly badass guitar solo courtesy of ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons in pure “Cheap Sunglasses” mode. Things start to get really good when Homme completely gives in to his pop instincts with “In My Head,” arguably the catchiest tune he’s ever written, and his band’s greatest chance thus far at a bona fide radio hit.

The woodblock smacks of first single “Little Sister” sound far better chasing “In My Head” than they do as a stand alone song on the radio, and the aforementioned pop ditties serve as a great setup to album centerpieces “I Never Came” and “Someone’s In The Wolf:” considerably lengthier tracks that personify what Homme does best; the slow burn. The former may be the album’s best track. It creates an air of tension via Homme’s sparse vocals and creepy use of falsetto in the chorus, eventually culminating in a wall of guitar and the same multi-tracked vocals that were overused on the last Queens record.

Lullabies is also interesting in that no other QoTSA record would appear to be as obsessed with the topic of the fairer sex. Josh Homme has been romantically linked to some relatively high profile rock chicks (Brody Dalle, Melissa Auf de Maur) since Songs For The Deaf vaulted his band into the mainstream (something which "The Lost Art of Keeping A Secret" had gotten the ball rolling on), and he now apparently wants to have his say on record. Such sentiments mostly manifest themselves on the second half of the album, and range from charmingly tender (“The Long Slow Goodbye”), to lascivious (“Skin on Skin”), to brutally misogynistic on the otherwise rockin’ “Broken Box”—the only non-Red Hot Chili Peppers rock song I can think of offhand that clearly uses the p-word in its verses (notice how I said “rock,” not “hip-hop”). Homme also now fashions himself a bit of a blue-eyed soul man; indulging his tender moments by crooning falsetto couplets such as, “where have you gone, my sweet?” and, “why’d you have to be so mean and cruel?”

Lullabies to Paralyze loses points for a handful of uninspired tracks and questionable production values, but I can’t imagine anybody who’s enjoyed the Queens in the past not taking to at least half of the songs on this album. Even without Nick, the band still rocks, and the best bits are arguably comprised of Josh Homme’s finest songs to date (“In My Head,” “I Never Came,” “The Long Slow Goodbye”). Besides, is Oliveri really gone for good? Lanegan was supposedly finished with this band, but he sings lead vocals on the first track, and is now on tour with QoTSA as we speak. Josh and Nick have reportedly kissed and made up. Something tells me that this isn’t the end.