Josh Homme and crew haven’t made an album since 2007’s Era Vulgaris. With such a large gap there are some doubts to be expected, especially since most albums made after a long break don’t hold up too well. But somehow QOTSA managed to make one of the most exciting albums of 2013. Though there are hints of the style fans have come to love them for, they expand their sound more here and they also step away from some of the elements that made their music so recognizable.
The opening track “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” begins with what sounds like glass shattering until the dirty, heavy bass line drudges in. It really drags itself along, but in the best possible way. The riff continues to stagger throughout the song, as if it’s drunk and attempting to stand. Then Homme’s cool vocals comes in and adds another layer to the song. I just want to take a moment to say I love Josh Homme’s voice. Something about it sounds so cool and soothing. Anyway, the vibe and sound of this track almost feels like you’re drugged, like most of their songs feel. Even though it’s a slower paced track, it’s still a great opener for the record. It also introduces the dark sound of the album.
There seems to be this darkness and sadness present throughout the entire album. A lot of the songs have this haunting, dark undertone to them due to the lyrics or the music itself. “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” is the perfect example of this. It has this piano riff that sadly tinkers as Homme sings “I want God to come and take me home/Cause I’m all alone in this crowd.” Something about that line is unnerving. Maybe it’s because he’s saying he’s ready to die. Even though there is some psychedelic influence found here, it feels and sounds so desolate.
Another song that’s border line depressing is “I Appear Missing.” Again, we return to the really light, somber sounding guitar riff, but what makes this song stand out are the lyrics: “Calling all comas, Prisoner on the loose./Description: A spitting image of me/Except for the heart-shaped hole where the hope runs out.” It seems that he’s saying he doesn’t know who he is anymore and the imagery that he uses to emphasize this, especially during the chorus is creepy: “Shock me awake/Tear me apart/Pinned like a note in a hospital gown/Prison of sleep/Deepened now/A rabbit hole never to be found…again.” The entire song gives you this feeling of hopelessness; that you should just give up now. Also, the slight country twang of the guitar brings the emptiness full circle.
But there are a few songs that pick up the mood a little bit. One of the best tracks here has got to be “Smooth Sailing.” It’s a funk driven track that has this undeniable groove. As soon as that bass line starts, you begin moving. The style of music isn’t new for the band; they’ve experimented with funk stylings in the past, but the track stands out because it’s the most upbeat track on the album at least in terms of music. Another upbeat track is “Fairweather Friends.” Maybe it’s just me, but the title makes me think of the Them Crooked Vultures track “Dead End Friends.” It has this riff that’s playful and loops around, much like some of their better know riffs. My favorite part of the song is the end when Homme says “I don’t give shit about ’em anyhow.”
I feel like this album is a departure from their previous sound because it seems to be less guitar driven. QOTSA are usually known for their awesome guitar riffs. Think of songs like “Little Sister” and “No One Knows;” they both have killer guitar riffs. But here there aren’t many guitar riffs that stand out, aside from the one found on the catchy “My God is the Sun” and this is a good thing. By stepping away from constant, in your face guitar riffs, it makes the listener focus on the song as a whole. It also allows them to play around with other instruments, such as the piano. I can’t remember another one of their albums that used the instrument so much, but here it’s used on just about all the tracks and it’s great at creating the dark, somber sound mentioned earlier.
Overall, the album gets 9/10. The band hasn’t made a record in six years, but with this album it doesn’t even feel like they’ve been away for that long. Every song is amazing with some sounding like some of their best material, while others explore the new sad, gloomy sound found on the entire album. With them taking the risk of being less guitar driven, the album still comes off as near perfect with sad tinkering pianos and funky guitar riffs. It’s safe to say that Queens of the Stone Age have delivered one of the best albums of the year.