Put Up Your Dukes: Queens Of The Stone Age

Queens3Two of MAGNET’s Matts—editor Matthew Fritch and writer Matt Ryan—go to the mat to see whose opinion is more correct. Today’s topic: Queens Of The Stone Age. Put up your dukes!

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch
As you know, I’ve been following Josh Homme’s career from the early Kyuss days through the various incarnations of the Desert Sessions and Queens Of The Stone Age. I’ve interviewed him three times and have written of him in glowing terms. With that said, it’s become increasingly difficult to be a fan these days. In fact, I’m starting to think I’m no longer up to the task. To these ears, Homme is in a very deep rut with his epileptic robot shtick, which reached its nadir with the perfectly awful Era Vulgaris. Still, given the players and a promising first single, my hopes were very, very high for Them Crooked Vultures, Homme’s supergroup with Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones. Having just given the full album a listen, however, I’ve concluded that Homme could have Alex Chilton and Paul McCartney on his writing team and still be incapable of producing a memorable hook.

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
You had high hopes for Them Crooked Vultures? Really? Since the demise of Led Zeppelin 30 years ago, John Paul Jones has, um … hold on … let me Wiki it … done some solo stuff and collaborated with Jars Of Clay and the singer from Toad The Wet Sprocket. Dave Grohl? He doesn’t have a lot of credit left at the creative bank right now. (He made some early withdrawals and invested really wisely; so don’t worry about him, he’s set for life.) So if you’re disappointed by Them Crooked Vultures, there’s plenty of blame to go around. I don’t think that everything Homme touches is gold (read my QOTSA Over/Under piece), but his Queens output is about as solid as any rock band’s over the last decade. You’ll have to tell me what’s “perfectly awful” about the punchier Era Vulgaris. As for the Vultures release, can we agree that being disappointed in that album is like being mad at the low quality of, say, Desert Sessions Vol. 4? It’s the man’s nature to goof off, experiment and have fun with recordings.

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch

Admittedly, Jonesy hasn’t been on the front pages for, um, a few decades, but that doesn’t diminish his legacy. With regard to Grohl, well, you’re way off base there. Yes, it’s easy to take shots at the increasingly everyman Foo Fighters (although you’ll still find them on my playlist), but you conveniently omitted the fact that Grohl is one of the best drummers in the business, a point on which there is consensus from fans, critics and musicians alike. Have you already forgotten that a Homme/Grohl collaboration resulted in the last exceptional QOTSA record, 2002’s Songs For The Deaf? On that basis alone, why would expectations be sky high for Them Crooked Vultures? Other than this golden moment, Homme’s creative well has been bone dry ever since. Yes, that includes (especially) Era Vulgaris. Have you even listened to the likes of “I’m Designer” from that record? Good god, that song makes me want to jam knitting needles into my ears. Similarly, if industrial machinery could masturbate, it would probably sound a lot like Era‘s aptly named lead-off single, “Sick, Sick, Sick.” I realize I’m somewhat contradicting myself here, slagging Homme’s musical output of the last few years, while at the same time arguing that I had high expectations for his most recent project. But I guess I had hoped that some of that old Homme brilliance would return.

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
Let’s agree to disagree on “Sick, Sick, Sick,” which I think is a pretty solid radio single with some fairly motorin’ (if not motorik) garage-rock guitars. And I’m not sure I’d characterize Songs For The Deaf as a “collaboration” between Grohl and Homme. Grohl played the drums. That’s like saying Blonde On Blonde was a collaboration between Bob Dylan and Kenneth A. Buttrey. (Sorry, drummers.) I’m tempted to paint you as a long-suffering Kyuss fan, with a cassette copy of Blues For The Red Sun tucked under your pillow. But that’s too easy. I think you’re just being impatient and misdiagnosing Homme with whatever disease Rivers Cuomo has—the one that turns a once-inspired songwriter into a rancid puddle of melted cheese. As with Dylan or Frank Black or Eric Bachmann or John Reis, you gotta hang in there and trust that Homme is going to be productive over the course of a career that outlasts dumb trends or self-inflicted indulgences. So the real questions are: When do you relinquish membership to the fan club? What formerly awesome musicians have you given up on? And do you really think Homme is at that point?

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch
Although it doesn’t advance the principal debate, I do have to take a moment to address the ridiculous implication that drummers can’t have a formative impact on classic recordings. Are you placing Grohl, John Bonham, Stewart Copeland, Neil Peart and Jimmy Chamberlain—just to name a few—in the same league as a session player? Really? Anyway, back to the matter at hand, I guess I never give up all hope on favorite songwriters who have lost their mojo. That I still hold a glimmer for Paul Westerberg should be ample evidence of that (although it is worth noting that Westerberg wasn’t that much younger than Homme is now when he broke up the ‘Mats and started his solo career, which doesn’t bode well for Josh). So, yes, while I do listen to Blues For The Red Sun more than Lullabies To Paralyze or Era Vulgaris these days, I also reserve hope that Homme has some gas left in the tank. By the way, I can’t help notice that you haven’t exactly launched a vociferous defense here. So far you’ve offered an outright slam (“You had high hopes for Them Crooked Vultures? Really?”), faint praise (“pretty solid radio single,” “fairly motorin’”) and a crack about the Desert Sessions. Search your feelings, Luke. You really agree with me, don’t you?

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
You misspelled Jimmy Chamberlin’s last name. But that’s OK—he’s still just as important to the Smashing Pumpkins as Billy Corrigan. Listen, I have enough enemies. I don’t need to add the world’s population of drummers to the list. Grohl was an excellent addition to the Queens lineup, but his presence alone didn’t make or break the songs. The band’s current drummer, Joey Castillo, is … whatever compliment drummers like to hear. An animal. A rabid caveman. That Hindu god with all the arms. But back to our main topic: I don’t feel too conflicted about Era Vulgaris. What, you don’t like Bulby and Patchy the Pirate? I enjoy the supercharged “3’s And 7’s” (as heard on Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and featuring a hook that’s memorable to just about everyone but you) as well as the fake R&B thing that is “Make It Wit Chu” (which is so much better than the fake R&B thing that My Morning Jacket does). I suspect you don’t like Homme’s recent efforts at concise rock and prefer his sprawling, droning stuff. Is that it? Era Vulgaris isn’t my favorite Queens record, but it’s hardly time to pull the plug on Homme. I get the feeling that if you were Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby, that movie would’ve been about an hour shorter.

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch
Thanks for the spell check. Guess that’s why you’re the editor with all the attendant fancy cars, drugs and high-priced call girls, while I’m just a lowly freelancer, toiling away in anonymity. The trappings of your Jay-Z lifestyle are obviously becoming a distraction, however, given your confusing comments about Homme’s “recent” efforts at concise rock. Have you not heard QOTSA’s 1998 debut? The three-minute “If Only” is not only concise, but one of the best things Homme has written. I’ll take that over any of the handful of bloated seven minute tracks on Lullabies To Paralyze any day of the week. Yes, he subsequently reined in song length on Era Vulgaris, but unfortunately, that brevity only translated to sucking for shorter periods of time. Look, I’ll make you a deal here: Admit that Homme’s recent output has been largely lackluster and I won’t unplug the respirator for another couple of years. Who knows, maybe we’ll see a miracle recovery.

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
Fine. I already admitted Era Vulgaris wasn’t the best album, and I can’t stand up for Them Crooked Vultures. Speaking of vultures, that’s exactly what you were at the beginning of this debate. You wanted to swoop down and pick apart the remains of Josh Homme. I don’t mean it to sound quite that moralistic—that’s what critics do. But the man isn’t dead. He’s just gathering strength. He’s on a swamp planet with Yoda. He’s in Siberia punching frozen meat. He’s carb-loading at Denny’s. You can’t keep this guy down. Let’s meet back here around the release date of the next Queens album and see how the patient is doing.

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9 Comments

  1. Russ
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Regardless of the argument on Josh’s musical output (2 sides of the fence, more or less equally presented) I was unimpressed with his reign over the Arctic Monkeys as a producer. I don’t think his desert swagger did justice to the band’s pop sound, and just listening to Cornerstone tells me where I think the band excels under another producer.

    Having said that, I sure was a fan of Kyuss’s greasy metal, but the Queens never brought the same spark for me.

  2. Tractor Beam
    Posted February 9, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    One speed read of this tripe finds neither MP3 nug nor breakfast donut of taste. Ever since Nick Oliveri took over the writing helm for Them Crooked Queens, the bearded one has been awesome..hanging at the soundboard like a bearded Eno.
    John Paul Jones has been in the Butthole Surfers since the 90’s and Led Zeppelin was awesome at my kids birthday kegger. You guys need to get the real scoop and the cream off your pants front.

  3. jamie.b
    Posted February 9, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Shocked you guys went 4 rounds without bringing up Nick’s absence coinciding, with Josh’s sudden lack of “creativity”. Progress, I suppose.

    As a huge Josh fan, I never wanted to agree with thos people who argued that year after year. But perhaps there is something to it after all.

    Either that or we just have to realize, much like a starting pitcher losing his fastball after umpteen years in the big leagues, that perhaps he’ll come out with a gem here and there, but maybe the fact remains he just doesn’t have consistency.

  4. Chris
    Posted February 9, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Can you describe exactly what you don’t like about Them Crooked Vultures? I think it’s a great record and don’t see anything in the above except that you had “high hopes.” And how come there is no mention of Eagles of Death Metal? or was this supposed to just be about Queens of the Stone Age?

  5. roy e
    Posted February 9, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    You two should admit that you are in love with each other; now kiss and make up.

    Kyuss rocks. Queens was its best at Rated R and started a slow decline after Songs

  6. The Rooftop
    Posted February 9, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Um, read the whole thing…felt as if Matt Ryan purely hates Josh Homme and is convinced that he is through. Matt Fritch seems not to be a huge fan either. If you spend a week listening to TCV you’ll see that it is great musically and lyrically…I mean it was written, toured upon, and released in such a short time…and it’s still this awesome?!?! Sure it sounds like a Queens album, but it has quite the exciting prospect of Them putting out more material…or even–forgive me Oliveri fans–replacing MikeyShoes (or Oliveri) on bass for the next Queens album. Who knows…but it must be quite a compliment to Nick to be generally replaced by the greatest living legend bass player at present!

    Everyone wants to see Nick back in the band, but he alledgedly man-handled Josh’s girl and is an tactless bastard socially…but who didn’t like the nude on-stage antics? Nick won’t be back until he truly appologizes. But he plays bass for the Dwarves now, so what does he really need the Queens for?

    For the record: I love almost all of Josh’s output (short of I Never Came off Lullabyes, and now Makit Wit Chu makes me angry). Era Vulgaris is the Queens coming together as a tight band and the songs show it! See Battery Acid and then we will talk.

    Kiss kiss

  7. Matt Ryan
    Posted February 9, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Chris, while I think Them Crooked Vultures “rocks” in every traditional sense (given the players, how could it not, eh?), I just didn’t think the tunes were that memorable. I listen and think “Yeah, this is decent,” but afterwards, not much sticks with me. “Scumbag Blues” may be the one exception. So while I actively disliked many of the Era Vulgaris songs, with the Vultures it was more a case of disappointment.

  8. Matthew Fritch
    Posted February 10, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    I can’t let Matt Ryan get the last word in, so I have to chime in on something here: Is there really a contingent of fans who think the Queens’ allegedly subpar recent efforts are a result of Nick Oliveri’s departure? I don’t think either of us even considered going down that poorly paved road.

    As for not mentioning Eagles of Death Metal, I’m fairly certain that is the domain of Jesse Hughes; Homme mostly just plays the drums there.

  9. Adam K
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    “You can’t pop a wheelie forever”

    saw TCV last night , Very impressive, novelty act.

    QOTSA dvd, live in London , still gives me chills.
    SFTD-Lullabies era.
    IMHO their zenith.
    Is it a “long slow goodbye” for this band?