Tuesday, August 14, 2007

[091] Rated R

Album: Rated R
Artist: Queens of the Stone Age
Release Date: June 2000
Label: Interscope
Producers: Chris Goss & Josh Homme

"Tastes so good
Oh, but I knew it would
Tastes so good
Burn like a match house
Medicate just to make you soft
Love is blind
Catch and release me
What the hell were they thinking of
You know why"
- from "I Think I Lost My Headache"

Sometimes writing these things is really easy; the band might just give you a lot to work with, sonically and lyrically. Times like these it’s a little tougher, not that QOTSA doesn’t present you with top-notch sounds, but specifically I mean when you sit down to write about a particular record that you’re very personally attached to. Being objective, when dealing with a favorite piece of art, is not an easy task. Rated R, the second album from Queens of the Stone Age, is one of my all-time “desert island discs”, and so I should be able to talk for days on why it’s so great. But after a while (in this case, 7 years), you love it just because. It speaks to you in a certain way, and the question then becomes how do I convince you that it could be that for you too? I can’t simply say, “Dude, this album rocks”, cuz then this would be a boring ass blog.

Let’s start with this: Rated R is the exact opposite of “Socially Sensitive". If a song is not about sex (The forbidden affair of “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret”) or drugs (The lysergic hallucinations of “Monsters In The Parasol”), then it’s about both (closer “I Think I Lost My Headache”), and they’re all Rock & Roll. Now I say “Socially Sensitive” because the term “Politically Correct” is faulty, bordering on sarcasm, as to say that speaking sensitively is something only politicians do. Any label involving the word ‘moral’ is bad too, because that implies that with anything there is a definable right and wrong, and there is not. I think maybe “Socially Sensitive” is a good media term. And that's why it’s Rated R, and the cover says “Restricted to everyone, everywhere, all the time” - to scare off the culturally stunted. Rated R, recorded with focus as opposed to in a wasted haze like so many drug/rock classics of the 70’s, opens with the rocket-fueled “Feel Good Hit of The Summer”, which, it’s been said countless times, is basically just the band’s shopping list: “Nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol…C-c-c-c-c-cocaine!!!” Live footage and interviews from the period prove the Queens walked the walk; there was a classic photo (in Kerrang, I think) of head Queen Josh Homme leaving a police station after being bailed out, with a 12-pack of beer under his arm. When I saw them play in 2000, they emerged head-to-toe in white, stating plainly that they had come dressed as lines of cocaine.

This type of behavior probably wouldn’t have happened, at least not so publicly, without Nick Oliveri in the band, but it appeared as if Josh always intended to include him – even though Nick doesn’t play on the band’s 1998 debut, he did show up on the album’s back cover and subsequent tour. Nick’s varied vocal skill is a welcome contrast to Josh’s stuffy drawl and smooth falsetto. Oliveri’s scream is one of the best in Rock, perfectly over-the-edge without ever descending into metal caricature or hardcore gruffness. On stage, it wasn’t uncommon to see him pretty much swallowing the mic while screaming the lyrics to paranoid smack trip “Tension Head”, the perverted punk pep rally of “Quick & To The Pointless” (which is half in Dutch, by the way), or glam-garage b-side gem “Ode To Clarissa”. When he’s isn’t losing it, he can be a calm, solid pop singer; his singing on the band’s cover of The Kinks’ “Who’ll Be The Next In Line”, also for a b-side, is the furthest thing from his crazy-fuck persona, while his “Auto Pilot” is one of his best contributions to the band, a Tom Petty-ish ballad featuring a light touch he would rarely showcase.

Despite reuniting with his former Kyuss bandmate and childhood friend Oliveri, and adding former Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan to his Palm Desert, CA fold, Homme is the star of the album; he conducts the album with precision and intent. If the show isn’t about his lyrics (the drunken come-ons of “Leg Of Lamb”), it’s about how he’s singing them (how he suggestively sighs “sooo haaard” on “Lamb” or drawls ‘out on the corner’ as “owwt ahn thuh cownah” on “Lost Art”). And if it isn’t about either of those things, then it’s definitely about Josh’s guitar. For some reason, Homme felt it necessary to have his guitar sound like anything but; on most songs, it sounds like some form of electric saw. On “Quick”, it sounds like car horns in traffic. The opening moments of Mark’s majestic ballad “In The Fade” are marked by Josh coaxing the sound of a dog barking from his axe. Further in, it sounds like a hot rod that morphs into a singing vacuum cleaner. It wouldn’t be your fault if you missed Josh & Nick’s backing falsettos or Nick’s cleanest, most tender bassline. On “Lost Art”, it sounds like a Harley, before ending up as a car alarm, and on “Headache” it sounds like a lawnmower running over a radio. Then there’s the epic “Better Living Through Chemistry”, which sounds like an alien transmission, Rock music from the eighth dimension, the prism on the cover of The Dark Side of the Moon come to life to shoot rainbow lasers at the Earth. Josh’s guitar pushes you, pulls you, teases you, pummels you, continuously spiraling towards the heavens, as its narrator begs “Is it too late to go back”, before asserting “I’m reclaiming my mind, destroying everyone.” It remains the definitive Queens of the Stone Age song. When the aliens land, we can play it for them and make them feel at home. Then the Queens can get them drunk, high & laid. They’ll be sure to come back in peace.

01. "Feel Good Hit Of The Summer"
02. "The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret"
03. "Leg Of Lamb"
04. "Auto Pilot"
05. "Better Living Through Chemistry"
06. "Monsters In The Parasol"
07. "Quick & To The Pointless"
08. "In The Fade/Feel Good Hit (Reprise)"
09. "Tension Head"
10. "Lightning Song"
11. "I Think I Lost My Headache"

I briefly mentioned a couple b-sides above; Rated R is one of those albums where a band had such a fertile recording period that all the tracks from that time that showed up on other releases are just as excellent and totally worth tracking down. At some point, maybe in 2010 for the 10th anniversary, Rated R should get one of those double-disc deluxe reissues, and include all these songs. Luckily, with the internet, you don’t have to wait, and it no longer means shelling out for import singles. Someone’s done the leg work for you; you just have to find the fan-made compilation online. Here’s the list:
- “Born To Hula” [2000 version]
- “Infinity”
- “Never Say Never” [Romeo Void cover]
- “Ode To Clarissa”
- “Who’ll Be The Next In Line” [Kinks cover]
- “You’re So Vague”

"Better Living Through Chemistry" [live in St. Gallen, Switzerland, 2003]

- BONUS: "The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret" [video]
- BONUS: "Tension Head" [live at the 2001 Bizarre Festival]
- BONUS: "I Think I Lost My Headache" [live at the 2001 Bizarre Festival]
- BONUS: "Monsters In The Parasol" [video]
- BONUS: "Feel Good Hit Of The Summer" [video]
- BONUS: "Auto Pilot" on the old Farmclub TV show
- BONUS: "Ode To Clarissa" [live at the 2003 Pinkpop Festival]
- BONUS: "In The Fade" [live at the 2003 Pinkpop Festival]
- BONUS: "Infinity" [audio] - easily one of their best songs.

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