Queens of the Stone Age tapped into the post-millennial modern rock zeitgeist with their 2002 breakthrough “Songs for the Deaf,” a collection of brutally loud, utterly thrilling sonic salvos threaded with mock DJ voice-overs for nonexistent radio stations.
Everything seemed to fall into place for the Josh Homme-led band, which has been quietly building a dedicated fan base since 1998. With the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl playing drums and former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan taking the microphone for several tunes, “Deaf” became a slam-dunk for rock aficionados.
The single “No One Knows” rocketed to No. 1 and stayed there for four straight weeks on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. Thanks to this newfound radio support and non-stop touring, “Deaf” sold more than 922,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
However, QOTSA’s charmed run seemingly crashed to a halt in February 2004, after Homme dismissed bassist Nick Oliveri, his longtime friend, from the band, and Lanegan said he was bowing out to focus on his own music.
So it’s more than a pleasant surprise that the first voice heard on the new album “Lullabies to Paralyze” is Lanegan’s, and that QOTSA is still wielding the manic energy and unpredictable persona so often attributed to the goateed, bald and bare-chested Oliveri. The set arrives March 22 via Interscope; first single “Little Sister” climbed to No. 2 on Modern Rock Tracks in just seven weeks.
“This isn’t an album about Nick,” Homme insists of the set, which sees Alain Johannes stepping in for Oliveri and Joey Castillo, formerly of Danzig, taking Grohl’s seat behind the drums.
“I didn’t want this to be a ‘breaking up is hard to do’ album,” Homme says. “That’s just boring.”
Similarly, Homme says he tuned out the pressure of following up “Deaf” by indulging his “selfish bastard” side in the studio and inviting such guests as ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Garbage’s Shirley Manson and the Distillers’ Brody Dalle to join the fun.
“I kind of have to assume that the reason ‘Deaf’ succeeded is because I didn’t focus on it ahead of time,” Homme says. “If I did that now, I’d be making a mistake.”
Thus emboldened, the core group, which also features multi-instrumentalist Troy Van Leeuwen, completed recording for “Lullabies” in just five weeks. Homme enthuses that a number of tracks were captured in one or two takes, including the sinister riff-fest “The Blood Is Love.”
“Those types of things are proud moments,” he says. “I hear us listening to each other. No one makes a move alone. Even ‘Little Sister’ is one completed take. You can hear it almost breaking apart at the end, where there are some cool mistakes. Man, I love that stuff.”
Highlights include Gibbons’ signature Southern-fried licks on the dirty blues strut “Burn the Witch” and the one-two gut punch of “Medication” and “Everybody Knows That You’re Insane.” The band also takes a stylistic left turn on closer “Long Slow Goodbye,” a surprisingly direct lament that ends with an out-of-character appearance by the Main Street Horns.
These nuances are what keep attracting new listeners, according to manager Stuart Sobol of the Firm: “The beauty about this band’s career so far is that they never lose fans. It’s like a snowball that keeps growing and growing into a giant snowman.”
Fans will get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of “Lullabies” via a DVD that will be included in a limited-edition pressing of the set. Also featured are exclusive videos that Homme commissioned for “Something’s in the Wolf” by Chapman Baehler and “Everybody Knows That You’re Insane” by Terry Richardson.
A two-month North American club tour that began March 15 in Austin sold out almost immediately, according to Sobol. QOTSA will spend June and half of July in Europe playing headlining dates and festivals and will return to North America in September for a three-month run in larger venues.
And while “Little Sister” has been a quick hit on radio and such video outlets as MTV2 and Fuse, Homme says the true arbiter of its success is his own satisfaction.
“The album is already a success to me because I really love it,” he says. “If someone came up to me and said, ‘You suck and I use your record as a coaster,’ that would never anger me, because I know I got what I needed from it.”
Excerpted from the March 19, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
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