Songs For The Deaf

by: Queens Of The Stone Age

Certain people would have you believe that Queens of the Stone Age's third album, Songs for the Deaf, is the return of real rock -- a bonecrushing work of boundless imagination, the cornerstone in a new era of great rock, much like Nevermind was a decade beforehand. These people, coincidentally, happen to be in the same group that criticizes the Strokes and the White Stripes, claiming that those two bands are nothing but hype, while shamelessly indulging in breathless hyperbole whenever they speak a single word about QOTSA. Anybody who heard Songs prior to its release claimed it was the greatest rock album in years, at least the greatest since Rated R, setting up expectations impossibly high for this very good album. To begin with, this ain't accessible -- not because the music is out-there or unfamiliar (lots of Cream filtered through garage rock, prog-metal, album rock, and punk does not make one a Borbetomagus, nor does it make it "imaginative," either), but because it is so insular, so concerned with pleasing themselves with what they play that they don't give a damn for the audience. This extends to the production, which sounds like a stoned joke gone awry as it compresses and flattens every instrument as if it were coming out of a cheap AM car radio. Sure, that might be the point -- the album begins with radio chatter, and there are lots of jokey asides by a fake DJ -- but Deaf winds up being entirely too evenhanded and samey, since every guitar has the same beefy, mid-range, no-treble tone and Dave Grohl (aka the Most Powerful Drummer in the Universe) is pushed to the background, never sounding loud, never giving this music the muscle it needs. As such, it becomes tiring to listen to -- too much at the same frequency, all hitting the ear in a way that doesn't result in blissful submission, just numbness undercut with a desire to have some texture in this album. Once you get around this -- which is an effort; unlike, say, the Strokes' Is This It?, whose thin production worked aesthetically and enhanced the songs, this sound cuts QOTSA off at the knees -- there indeed is plenty to enjoy here since the band is very good. They're exceptional players, especially augmented here by Grohl on drums, Mark Lanegan on vocals, and Dean Ween on guitar, plus they're very good songwriters, whether they're writing technically intricate riff-rockers or throwbacks to Nuggets. All of this is sorely missing from most guitar rock these days, whether it's indie rock or insipid alt-metal, so it's little wonder that so many fans of great guitar rock flock to this, regardless of its flaws. But that doesn't erase the fact that, above all, QOTSA is a muso band -- a band for musicians and those who have listened to too much music. Why else did the greatest drummer and greatest guitarist in '90s alt-rock (Dave Grohl and Dean Ween, respectively) anxiously join this ever-shifting collective? They wanted to play with the prodigiously talented Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri, two musicians who share their taste and willingness to jam. It results in interesting music and an album that, for all of its flaws, is still easily one of the best rock records of 2002. But, to be needlessly reductive, the analogy runs a little like this -- QOTSA is King Crimson and the White Stripes are the Rolling Stones. Which one is "better" is entirely a matter of taste, but which one do you think plays to a larger audience, and is more about "real" rock? [The album was issued digitally in 2007.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Please enable Javascript to view this page competely.