In the topsy-turvy world of rock ‘n’ roll there is little room for peace. For every peace-love-dope-laden refrain of “Smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love somebody right now” there is a Johnny Rotten spewing “Destroy” into the microphone. Long ago, the leaders of record labels realized that nihilism and manufactured anger are the secrets to the all-powerful teenage dollar. Hate is in, and that makes the success of Queens of the Stone Age all the more quizzical.
At first listen, the band is a rock powerhouse. Riff after riff pound over the listener like the tide coming in on some long-forgotten ocean of rock. Further listens reveal a sweet pop side that balances out the crushing fury. Sure, this music can be the equivalent of being beaten by a street gang, but it’s a beating you can tap your foot to.
But punishing riffs aside, the band’s ideal vision is something closer to “Smile on your brother” by comparison, according to Queens lead singer/guitarist/founder Josh Homme.
“We want sex to bleed into the music,” Homme said in an interview with Rolling Stone.com in 2002. “At our shows, we want to see half boys and half girls in a utopian world, dancing and drinking.”
It’s not just at their concerts where Queens of the Stone Age’s gender politics come into play—even the band’s name is a sort of rejection of the standard roles in the riff-happy world of heavy metal.
“Kings would be too macho,” Homme told Rolling Stone. “The Kings of the Stone Age wear armor and have axes and wrestle. The Queens of the Stone Age hang out with the Kings of the Stone Age’s girlfriends when they wrestle. Rock should be heavy enough for the boys and sweet enough for the girls. That way everyone’s happy and it’s more of a party. Kings of the Stone Age is too lopsided.”
Formed in 1997 from the ashes of Homme’s former band Kyuss, the Queens helped usher in a brand of ‘70s-inspired, guitar-centric rock during a time when boy bands and rap rock ruled radio and the charts. Their music was a welcome nod to the past, while still somehow looking forward. Homme’s influence through his work with Kyuss, the Queens, and his star-studded side project, The Desert Sessions, has become so evident that critics invented a new buzzword for the band’s sludge-rocking: stoner rock. Homme scorns the term.
“The term sucks,” Homme said in a 2000 interview with Launch.com. “To music lovers who hate my band, they know Queens is not a stoner-rock band.”
Queens of the Stone Age is one of the more interesting bands operating within the mainstream today, and the band’s latest album, Era Vulgaris (Interscope), is a collection of smartly put together rock ‘n’ roll that further cements Homme as one of the smartest songwriters in his genre—whatever you want to call it.
[Jason Bugg is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]
The Queens of the Stone Age play The Orange Peel (101 Biltmore Ave.), with special guest Dax Riggs and Howlin’ Rain on Monday, Sept. 24. 9 p.m. $25. www.TheOrangePeel.net or 225-5851.