Queens Of The Stone Age
Rated Rx (reissue)
, August 16th, 2010 08:31
Rated Rx is the edgy drug-referencing retitle for an album you probably know better as Rated R, the second album by Queens Of The Stone Age which originally came out ten years (and two months) ago. Its anniversary repackaging has allowed it to pass into the dubious hall of fame that is the list of Universal Music Enterprises Deluxe Editions (“the albums are selected by Universal Music Enterprises to celebrate anniversaries, landmark albums or crowning achievements in a musicians' career”). Only three albums given this treatment – namely a bonus CD of rare/live/unreleased/demo blah, a crap plastic case and maybe some good sleevenotes if you're lucky – are younger than Rated R. They are Saint Etienne's Finisterre, Asleep In The Back by Elbow and Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American, none of which are remotely as good as this really pretty kicking album.
Inarguably the band's commercial breakthrough, having signed to a major following a self-titled debut LP in 1998 – a distinctive and often wonderful album which has inexplicably been out of print for years – Queens would also swiftly surpass the sales of Kyuss, the Death Valley heavy rock ensemble whose dissolution circa '96 paved the way for guitarist Josh Homme to become de facto leader in a new crew. Rated R was a fixture in the vertical wire racks of people who neither knew nor cared about Kyuss, and it's not hyperbolic to say it was the soundtrack to the summer for many rock/metal-leaning people. I arrived at it from the position of an aspiring music journalist slightly conflicted by the realisation that penning reams of flowery prose about records was a poor substitute for the baser instinct to bang head/clench fist/stand on chair when confronted by something that sounds rad. Having not really shifted from this position a decade hence, I'm ripe to buy into the nostalgia implied by this 'anniversary edition'.
From a hack-centric POV, QOTSA are also that rare example of a band who almost entirely elude easy genre pigeonholing. Kyuss had been standardbearers for 'stoner rock', for better or worse; Homme's efforts to shuffle away from this were successful, even if he still detonates plenty of thick, slow riffs herein (leadoff single 'The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret' and the gurning circus soundtrack that finishes the album, 'I Think I Lost My Headache'). It has songs, too, which come at you with punk pace and throbbing-vein abandon – 'Quick and To The Pointless' and the rampant 'Tension Head', both vocalised by wang-revealing loose cannon Nick Oliveri. Songs like 'Leg Of Lamb' and 'Auto Pilot' have the filter-tipped soulfulness of the best quasi-grunge – Afghan Whigs and Screaming Trees, two of whom feature on the album. Songs from which no message can be taken aside from that if you take hard and/or illegal drugs in big enough quantities, there's a pretty good chance you will really enjoy yourself. 'Monsters In The Parasol' is about mushrooms and 'Feel Good Hit Of The Summer' is about everything Homme took on NYE this one time. The latter of these is also a song featuring a guest vocal from Rob Halford, serving no purpose other than to allow Queens to say they had Rob Halford on their album (which, you know, is sort of fair enough).
Despite all this, Rated R is not a stoner, punk, grunge, psychedelic or metal record. That it was leapt on by a music press obsessed with squishing bands into scenes and subgenres that serve few people other than the journos themselves speaks volumes. There was little reason to think that this would hit paydirt, especially given that this was the era of Limp Park and Linkin Bizkit, where heavy rock or metal generally triumphed by engaging in a race to the bottom. Yet paydirt it hit, making Queens – okay, Homme and Oliveri – mainstream rock icons, and leaving an album which hasn't dated in any meaningful way.
QOTSA, despite having a goodly supply of individually anthemic flashes, have never really been a 'singles band'. This might explain why the second CD here, while by no means worthless, mostly consists of covers and live renditions. 'Ode To Clarissa', a bonus track for Rated R vinyl buyers, is a decentish example of Queens in brain-light blooze mode: “I'm the one your mama told ya'bout,” offers Oliveri, and few other popular artists could have sung this line in the 21st century and not had the world laugh a chunk out of their career. 'You're So Vague' is, it seems, 'officially' considered a parody of Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain', although this strikes me as something of a stretch, given that this parodic element rests on two lines and none of the music (this can also be said of 'A Film For The Future' by Idlewild, which came out two years prior to this song and which you cannot believe you are seeing mentioned on The Quietus in 2010).
'Never Say Never' is an actual cover, of Romeo Void's 1981 semi-hit, and if you didn't know better you might find it hard to credit that this is QOTSA. Homme's voice on this sounds for all the world like James Murphy and the band's twinkling synths and post-Gang Of Four dancepunkery come on like a hard rockish… LCD Soundsystem, two years before that crew's first single. It might only be a cover on a B-side, but deserves to stand alongside the first QOTSA album's opener 'Regular John' – full-scale Neu! channeling with riffs remaining Billy Gibbons-strong – in their catalogue of curveballs. (Their other cover from this period, of The Kinks' 'Who'll Be The Next In Line', is pretty unremarkable, for the record.)
The final nine of the disc's fifteen songs are live from the Reading Festival shortly after Rated R's release; to my knowledge, there has never been a live set recorded at Reading which needs to be heard by anyone other than dedicated fans of the act in question, and as much as it sounds like they rocked the bells of all manner of dusty beshorted nitwits that day, this is no exception. In fairness, though, forty minutes of late-afternoon crankout at a large, smelly British rock festival pretty accurately represents the lot of Queens Of The Stone Age in the late summer of 2000.