The Over/Under: Queens Of The Stone Age

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Attention comments-section creeps, mutants, shut-ins and teenage hand models: MAGNET has been fairly diplomatic about these Over/Under lists in recent weeks, offering up a “hey, it’s just this listener’s opinion” line of conciliatory dialogue in order to keep the apes in the yard. But when it comes to Queens Of The Stone Age, the best hard-rock band of the last decade, I’m pulling rank. I’ve, um, relaxed at the Queens’ Rancho De La Luna clubhouse and I’ve walked through the Joshua Tree desert in the pitch-black night through a pack of coyotes. I’ve been to the green room and the hotel and the afterparty and the party that comes after the afterparty with these guys. I gave Homme a Ween bootleg and he gave me some pull quotes. Troy Van Leeuwen made fun of my Wrens T-shirt, and I sat with Nick Oliveri as he got a Roky Erickson “Easter Everywhere” tattoo. I told Nick he could hold my hand if he got scared, but he was such a trooper. Here are the five most overrated and five most underrated QOTSA songs.

The Five Most Overrated Queens Of The Stone Age Songs
1. “No One Knows” (2002)
… why this song became the Queens’ biggest hit to date. The predictable gripe about “No One Knows” is that its verses are essentially oom-pah music, which seems like an unacceptably ironic songwriting move. If that’s what it took to get the Queens on the radio, however, so be it. The real crime here is the lack of a chorus; when the band explodes out of its little polka experiment, the riffage is fierce but oddly unfulfilling and immobile. Don’t tell anyone, but the lyrics convery almost exactly the same thing as Rated R‘s “The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret.” Homme himself told me he didn’t want to be enshrined on modern-rock radio playlists for “No One Knows,” and the vast remainder of the Queens catalog answers the question, “Why?”

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2. “Hangin’ Tree” (2002)
Not by any means a bad song, this Mark Lanegan-sung track appears in superior form on Desert Sessions Vol. 7 & 8. I’ve never bought into the notion that the Desert Sessions should be a proving ground for Queens album material; and in the case of “Hangin’ Tree,” the band took a diamond in the rough and shined it to dull luminosity. It’s played a little too fast, a little too tight, when a loose-limbed and all-shook-down approach would’ve better served the mood of the melody.

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3. “Little Sister” (2005)
Too much cowbell. As if to satisfy some itch brought on by Homme’s titillation with the Christopher Walken Saturday Night Live skit about Blue Öyster Cult producer Sandy Pearlman, “Little Sister” is an unworthy trifle. Homme’s vocals already ride backseat to 90 percent of Queens songs; further reducing them with an echo effect is perverse. It’s a shame, because the lead guitar is inventive and unique, like a bright-yellow paint smear across an otherwise drab black-and-white canvas.

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4. “Go With The Flow” (2002)
A one-dimensional rocker whose one dimension gets boring after the first minute, the mass appeal of “Go With The Flow” must be explained by its catchphrase title. Maybe dudes consistently get high scores on their Wii snowboarding game when this is pumping through their Logitech speakers. When I’m not busy being an expert on Queens Of The Stone Age, I’m talking to Jesse Hughes about what makes a good guitar riff: It has to go away, then come back. This one never goes away.

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5. “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer” (2000)
I’m not gonna buzzkill the genius move of beginning a major-label debut with a song whose sole lyrics are “Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol” (and sometimes “cocaine”). I just think those drugs are overrated. How about some Elavil, dextromethorphan (cough syrup), Feminax or Tramadol? C’mon, people, let’s be creative here.

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The Five Most Underrated Queens Of The Stone Age Songs
1. “Burn The Witch” (2005)
When Homme told me—that’s me, not you—that he wanted Lullabies To Paralyze to sound like “an army of retards and rejects marching over the hill,” I have no doubt this is the song he had in mind. Sloth from Goonies, Dumbo the elephant and Brick Tamland are killing it on this track. Overall, Lullabies To Paralyze failed to complete its spooky, woodsy, Germanic vision, but “Burn The Witch” puts it all in the cauldron and lets it boil. Here’s an UNKLE remix of the track, too—it was on the Saw II soundtrack. One of the taglines for Saw II was “Oh, yes. There will be blood.”

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“Burn The Witch (UNKLE Remix)”:

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2. “Regular John” (1998)
The Queens’ self-titled debut effectively ended stoner rock even as it celebrated the microgenre’s sound in a way that Fu Manchu and Monster Magnet never dreamed of doing. Homme’s natural inclination toward melodic vocals instantly made QOTSA a “pop” concern, while the album’s robotically tilled sludge declared, “Move over, refrigerators. Here’s what’s cool.” Opening track “Regular John” is a motorik riff that’s been taken out of its sterile krautrock laboratory and partied with.

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3. “God Is In The Radio” (2002)
Lanegan’s finest turn as a Queens vocalist isn’t wasted here; “God Is In The Radio” also features an array of fake endings, most notably a fadeout that comes back to life and eats your brain. Even within the same album, “The Real Song For The Deaf” also stops, then comes back. Remember what Hughes said about going away and coming back?

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4. “Autopilot” (2000)
Of the many gifts given to erstwhile bassist Nick Oliveri by Homme, the assignment of vocal duties on “Autopilot” was a diamond tennis bracelet from Zales, the key to a Lexus parked on the front lawn and a Fruit Flowers bouquet all wrapped in one package. As sedate and beautiful a song as the band ever recorded. Those who lament the loss of “spontaneity” brought to the table by Oliveri ought to reconsider what usually happened when he went in the other direction; as Oliveri shouts his way through “Quick And To The Pointless” a few tracks later on Rated R, it’s apparent that he’s having a party, and he’s the only one invited.

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5. “Give The Mule What He Wants” (1998)
Being so knowledgeable about Queens Of The Stone Age is making me tired. Kyuss drummer Alfredo Hernandez makes this track; commence air-drumming at 0:26. Homme once told me he thought Hernandez was a mix between AC/DC’s Phil Rudd and both the drummers from Devo … and that makes no sense to me. I didn’t know Devo had two drummers. Or maybe Homme meant two non-simultaneous drummers, like Alan Myers and David Kendrick. Or maybe it just sounded cool.

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—Matthew Fritch

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23 Comments

  1. Posted July 28, 2009 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    since you spent that much time w/the fellers i wonder if you ever crashed at my upstairs neighbors in SF in lower haight. they use to make quite a ruckus up there.

    i have no comments on your listings. opinions is as opinions do.

  2. luis
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    we should do an over/under of your over/under’s… or what have you.

  3. Chris
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Can we get an over/under of someone like “Guided By Voices/Robert Pollard” or similar that has a ton of output and is impossible to listen to everything?

  4. roarvis
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Totally agree with you about “Autopilot” and “Regular John.” Does Homme even write songs like that anymore? I’ve lost touch.

    “Go With the Flow” is one of my favorites. One man’s boredom is another’s hypnosis.

  5. Eric T. Miller
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
  6. thom young
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I’m ready for the re-release of 1998 self titled first album.

  7. soundrotation
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    never liked god is in the radio, still love the “hit” singles. used to listen to the first five songs on “deaf” over and over again.

  8. Bootyfish
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    you sir, are an asshole. you are way too focused on lyrics when it is perfectly clear to anyone with taste that the lyrics are incidental and secondary to the music itself. I’m so sick of music reviews focusing entirely on lyrics(!) and i think it comes down to the fact that you guys don’t really like music, you like musicians. because rock stars are cool…right? wrong! josh homme is a meathead jerk, but he’s also an excellent guitarist. “Go With the Flow” doesn’t even have a dominant riff! it’s just a simple rhythm guitar strum which is one of the most tasteful and well written songs in their catalogue. “No One Knows” is brilliant for that unique rhythm and that unforgettable riff. I agree that “Little Sister” is complete crap. The most underrated QOTSA song is “I Was a Teenage Hand Model”, and while Rated R is an almost perfect album, everything they’ve released since except for a handful of songs from “songs for the Deaf” has been incredibly disappointing and unmemorable. And how could you think that including a remix is a good idea??? You suck.

  9. Posted July 28, 2009 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    I guess this type of list is going to lend itself to popular songs being overrated.

    Autopilot is my all-time favorite, so great call there. Other songs I think are underrated include: In the Fade, If Only, Avon, and Another Love Song.

  10. adam t.k.
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    Pleasant suprise to QOTSA in the over/under, Thanks Matthew.
    I agree they are “the best hard-rock band of the last decade”,
    “Regular John” live in a club venue is fuck’n unreal. Heard they might tour to
    support the upcoming reissue.
    Interview with Troy.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Islv4b12zfI
    I love me some “Go with the flow”, just picture Natasha bang’n on the keys!

    Rock on

  11. vinCENT
    Posted July 29, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Very cool to see a Queens write up here on Magnet. Keep up the good work.

    And good call on, one of my all time favorites, Give The Mule What He Wants. That song rules!

  12. Andrew the Noisy
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    “I’m so sick of music reviews focusing entirely on lyrics(!)”

    For real. Who pays any attention to lyrics? They’re all about the same things anyway.

  13. Emily
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    So right about “Burn the Witch.” Way better than “Little Sister,” but never got the love.

  14. megosh
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    yeah, i hate lyrics. they’re just like, words. why am i even writing with them? i’m off to go make my own caveman drawing language while listening to mogwai.

  15. Bootyfish
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Lyrics are fucking wonderful megosh, but if you think that Josh Homme writes interesting lyrics you are also a meathead. They are right up there with Kid Rock & Nickelback. My point was that why Queens are good has absolutely nothing to do with lyrics. Which is fine, good art should transcend language.

    And making caveman drawings while listening to Mogwai actually sounds pretty awesome. Certainly better than lifting weights and jerking off to rape fantasies while listening to “skin on skin’… which is a great fucking song. Is anyone else conflicted about liking this band?!

  16. Jezz
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    your pretty spot on there

  17. adam t.k.
    Posted August 2, 2009 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    what is a Bootyfish?

  18. oliverkicksass
    Posted August 3, 2009 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    The overrated list looks pretty solid. The underrated list, not so much. God is in the Radio is definitely underrated but so are: The Bronze, Born to Hula, How to Handle a Rope, Walkin on the Sidewalks.

  19. E-Dub
    Posted August 13, 2009 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Autopilot. So good I was forced to play it twice and smash the computer so I could escape. I’m with Bootyfish on the supremacy of Rated R.

  20. Posted September 9, 2009 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Definitely agree with Autopilot, but unfortunately I’m also a supporter of Go With the Flow — not because I think it’s overly creative or complex, or took a stroke of genius to write — but because it sonically resembles a fucking semi ripping through a barn.

    No One Knows being a “polka experiment” — haha — I’ll leave that one alone.

    Matt, I’d like to hear your opinion on Make It Wit Chu. Even though the name sounds like a retarded 4th grader sexted it to his stupid crush, I think the (lead) vocals are good, and the piano part adds a mellow, meandering quality I can appreciate. Definitely the other end of their spectrum, but I dig.

  21. Matthew Fritch
    Posted September 10, 2009 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I like “Make It Wit Chu” a lot as a stand-alone track; in the context of the oddly disjointed Era Vulgaris, though, it’s another song that makes the album a bit bumpy. (Which was probably intentional – EV being a move away from the overly cohesive Lullabies To Paralyze.) I’m all for expanding the spectrum, especially after hearing the Homme-produced Arctic Monkeys album. It’s cool to hear some very obvious Queens sounds grafted onto another band but maybe that sound has become too recognizable and comfortable.

  22. Posted September 11, 2009 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    I’ll have to check out that Monkeys album. I never got into them, since they sound to me like a homeschooled Libertines, but if Homme rangled them a little, something interesting might have happened. Cool.

  23. Brad
    Posted October 7, 2011 at 2:09 am | Permalink

    They all suck
    QOSTA sound is dull , the guitars have no bite or anything that remotely catches the ear
    Josh Homme is a douche who lacks the vocal power and charisma to be a frotnman
    their songs are so lame they drain all the mojo out of me and kill any rocking vibe
    Josh Homme’s lack of vibrancy and lame of personality are the weak point of any project he’s ever been on