I’ve re-written the intro to what I intended to be my review of Queens of the Stone Age’s Era Vulgaris about three times, in each instance coming at it from a different approach. I’ve tried contextualizing it in many ways, attempting to glean the value from this shiny new nugget of low-end rock. I’ve given it the personal touch, intellectualized it, even thrown out words like “historical” and “canon,” in my attempts to juxtapose it against the group’s prior four albums. But every time, my problem amounted to over-thinking, something you should never do with a dude rock band such as Queens of the Stone Age.
I don’t mean to say that QOTSA is “dumb,” so to speak, but rather they’re quite clever and creative within a rather dumb art form, that being meaty, bludgeoning rock. It’s music that’s meant to be experienced on a visceral level, and on that very level, Era Vulgaris delivers a mighty adrenaline rush and one of the group’s most solid song spreads. There’s few monster hits to speak of, no “Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” or “No One Knows,” but that said, it’s not hard to sink one’s teeth into the sinewy selections and let their juices drip. With a repeated one-note power drill from Hell riff, “Sick, Sick, Sick” accomplishes its feat of being a straightforward rock powerhouse.
Era Vulgaris contains some of the usual suspects, namely Mark Lanegan, guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen and the imperial majesty her…er, himself, Josh Homme. Furthermore, The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas lends his pipes to the record as well. Yet with Queens Mark 5, each contributor has become less of a guest star and has evolved into part of the ever-growing Voltron creation that Homme has constructed. Both Lanegan and Casablancas can easily be mistaken for Homme in their respective roles, but such is the power of the cybernetic bond that each player has with the vehicle. That said, consistency is key on this outing, and makes for a strikingly cohesive whole.
“Turning On the Screw” kicks off the horn-throwing festivities with chunky, solid riffage and a chorus that soars majestically, ringing in QOTSA Mark 5 quite wonderfully. “Battery Acid” thrashes and grinds, stomps and kicks up a noxious amount of dust. “Make It Wit Chu” is a re-recorded version of a song from Homme’s Desert Sessions, and makes for a great, bluesy addition to the album, though I do miss the song’s prior rawness and gritty, road house saloon feel. In any case, being as strong a track as it is, sounds great under any circumstances. For raw, camaro revving rock throttle, “3’s and 7’s” does the trick nicely, offering blazing hot riffs and sure enough, one of the catchiest melodies on the album overall. “Suture Up Your Future,” as well, boogies and bounces with a memorable groove. Even if there isn’t a genuine hit here, there are certainly plenty of solid, amazing tracks.
If I were to put Era Vulgaris up against its predecessors, I would venture to say that it stands up as one of the best. Though it doesn’t have Dave Grohl’s kick ass drum destruction, it’s got songs to rival those of Songs for the Deaf, and without the between song banter and jokes that made that record just a tad on the obnoxious side. But hey, I’m not over-thinking this one. With records like this, a euphoric state of rocking out comes naturally.
Kyuss – …And the Circus Leaves Town
Desert Sessions – The Desert Sessions, Vols. 9 & 10
Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.