Queens of the Stone Age

Don't expect the sons of Kyuss -- an underappreciated band that drew comparisons to Nirvana in the early '90s -- to rise up lethargically like Lon Chaney Jr. and embarrass their ancestry. Sure, guitarist Josh Homme packs bowl after bowl of blooze-metal variations from the seedier side -- admittedly equal parts sweet leaf and shake -- but it's more than giggle smoke his band blows up the skirts of stoner nobility: "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" also exalts "nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, ecstasy and alcohol" while leaving Sunday free for dinner at Grandma's -- so save room for Apple Betty.

Following the Palm Desert outfit's self-titled debut on Loosegroove, Rated R expands upon the original power trio's sun-baked formula with bigger production on a bigger label -- not to mention guest cameos from Rob Halford (Judas Priest/Fight) and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees). It also incorporates brass, vibes and lap-steel arrangements, plus the occasional hand-clap track. But don't fret, dime-baggers: All of the primal fuzz and low-end rumble you've come to expect from the Queens still reign supreme. Like a generator jam at a Burning Man festival, the royal dopers don't exactly reinvent the wheel of drone-rhythm-rock. Instead they celebrate experimentation, resisting the urge to headbang by numbers. "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" sounds like urban gumshoe Sam Spade riffin' his way through a parched canyon while the buzzards circle; "Leg of Lamb" sustains a trancelike mood while driving on the rims of a single scraggly chord. Through fastidious studio trickery, the poppy "Auto Pilot" mutates from seismic ripple to harmonized lullaby -- which includes the distant thunder of a jet engine -- before your very ears. And a conga-laced "Better Living Through Chemistry" (with enough euphoria to stretch a Ziploc) fades out in mid-anthem, oddly enough; when it finally roars back into focus, the song's artfulness far out-scales its heaviness, man, and offers some gentle advice: Never come between a dude and his stash.

On the downside, Homme's Mr. Sensitive vocals will never match the powerful wailing of Kyuss piper John Garcia. Not that it has to -- but J.H. could sure stand some whiskeyfyin' to complement the music's gutsiness. Dude can flat-out screeeeeam, though, as evidenced by brasher tracks like "Tension Head" and especially "Quick and to the Pointless" in which he approximates a bare-assed Steven Tyler sitting on a smoking waffle iron. Lyrically, it's just as well. With the dream logic of scattered lines like "I'd get up/If I knew I fell" and "Paul's dad is warped and bubbling/Oh, well" Homme's songwriting rarely relies on operatics, let alone poignancy. It vacillates between something almost rated NC-17 (adult situations, violence, nudity, blind faith) and an angry fix. It's just the sort of summer drive-in fare you might have snuck in to see as a high-schooler, gasping for air in the trunk between a cooler of Pabst and a few duct-taped lawn chairs.

Bong voyage.


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