Following 2002's near-flawless set "Songs for the Deaf," Queens of the Stone Age have their work cut out for them. The loss of manic bassist and band co-founder Nick Oliveri is felt; so is the absence

Following 2002's near-flawless set "Songs for the Deaf," Queens of the Stone Age have their work cut out for them. The loss of manic bassist and band co-founder Nick Oliveri is felt; so is the absence of Dave Grohl, who contributed drums to "Deaf." But the 2005 version of QOTSA finds the band more relaxed and loose than it has ever been on record. "Lullabies" often sounds more like singer/guitarist Josh Homme's collaborative "Desert Sessions" albums. Here, guests include ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons and Garbage's Shirley Manson. This makes for definite mood shifts. Songs like lead single "Little Sister" and "Medication" seethe with a punk intensity; "Burn the Witch" sounds like vintage, bluesy Aerosmith; "Long Slow Goodbye" is more melodic and showcases Homme's unique falsetto. The band cuts loose on longer tracks like "The Blood Is Love" and "Someone's in the Wolf." Fans won't be disappointed.—BT