Queens of the Stone Age - Rated Rx (reissue)
Is it really a whole decade since Rated R’s original release? We must admit to being taken slightly by surprise when we discovered that Queens Of The Stone Age were reissuing their breakthrough second album to celebrate ten years since its first airing.
Maybe it’s hard to think of Rated R as a ‘classic album’ because it’s aged so well. In terms of both songwriting and production the record stands up against any great rock record released in the latter half of the last decade.
Of course, despite Rated R marking QOTSA’s breakthrough, they were by no means a band coming out of nowhere. Vocalist, guitarist, band-leader and producer Josh Homme already had a more-than-impressive CV behind him by the turn of the millennium. Prior to forming QOTSA Homme had spent much of the ‘90s as lead guitarist of the scene-defining ‘stoner rock’ band Kyuss, whom he’d formed in the late ‘80s at the tender age of 15.
Homme was also already several years into his Desert Sessions project - a series of collaborative albums recorded in the desert in Joshua Tree, Homme’s hometown - more on that later.
Rated R, however, was by no means a single-person effort. As has always been the case, the Queens Of The Stone Age of Rated R consisted of an ever revolving line-up of musicians and contributors; there are performances from 17 different musicians on Rated R. Most notable of these is Nick Oliveri, who was, from the Rated R sessions until his 2004 dismissal from the band, QOTSA’s full-time bassist and a close collaborator of Homme. It’s worth noting that Oliveri is also a man with, it seems, a genuine passion for getting naked.
So let’s take a track-by-track look at Rated Rx and see how Queens Of The Stone Age’s classic album is looking in 2010…
Feel Good Hit Of The Summer
The opening one-two of Feel Good Hit Of The Summer and Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret is still QOTSA’s most infectious moment to date.
Feel Good Hit is the song that nearly got Rated R pulled from sale by several major American retailers, most notably Wal-Mart. It’s not surprising to be honest; the lyrics are essentially just a repeated list of drugs (nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy, alcohol and cocaine to be precise).
Actually drugs are a fairly important reference point when discussing Rated R. The repeated references to illicit substances, and Homme’s background in Kyuss, often means that Rated R gets labelled as a stoner rock album.
But the desert rock scene that sprang up around Palm Desert at the turn of the millennium is actually a bold step away from those ‘90s stoner roots. The meticulously tight riffs of Kyuss are still present, but Rated R is more eclectic, emotive and edgier than its roots.
Right from the opening Feel Good Hit is clearly set apart from the slow, grungy riffs of stoner music. With its punk rock bassline and urgent drum build-ups there’s the kind of energy to the song that you just don’t get when you’ve been spending a lot of time with Mary Jane.
The track also features backing vocals from Judas Priest singer Rob Halford who, as the story goes, was recording in the studio next door and was talked into making a vocal cameo.
Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret
It’s impossible to overlook how great it sounds when Feel Good Hit slides into the intro drum fill of Lost Art.
Whereas Feel Good Hit Of The Summer was punky and energetic, Lost Art is tight, melodic and poppy. That’s not to say it’s a simple track though. The great songwriting and production - the way the electric piano is panned hard left with the guitar riff chugging to the right - mean this is streets ahead of your average rock single.
As with several other tracks on Rated R, Lost Art is a step forward form the band's stoner rock background. There’s obviously still tricks that were learnt from the ‘90s; the tight playing, the repetitive riffs. But now there’s a very memorable chorus in there too. In production terms also, there’s less emphasis on guitar and drums and numerous great little instrumental touches are added. It almost hints at an influence from classic ‘60s and ‘70s pop records.
Leg Of Lamb
Leg Of Lamb is where Rated R takes a turn away from catchy, hook-filled singles towards weirder territory.
It’s a great track for the way the two panned guitars interplay with each other; a tight riff to the left, and another to the right built around feedback and fret-noise. And then those washy guitar chords come in underpinning the chorus - it’s rare that guitar music sound this interesting.
Auto Pilot is the first Queens Of The Stone Age recording that features Nick Oliveri on lead vocals.
After Homme Nick is generally spoken of as the second biggest player in QOTSA’s history, which is odd in a way. He only actually ever appeared on two Queens records - this and Songs For The Deaf - and hasn’t played with the band since him and Homme had a fairly public bust-up in ’04. In actuality there are other members, such as Mark Lanegan and Perfect Circle guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, who have statistically appeared with the band for longer periods.
Oliveri is probably seen as important for two reasons though. Firstly, his creative relationship with Homme was always seen as a very close one; the two had played in bands with each other since they were teenagers in the ‘80s and always appeared to work very closely together.
Secondly Oliveri has always been a real larger-than-life, rock and roll figure. You could argue that, in the first half of the noughties, if you hadn’t seen Nick Oliveri perform naked, you hadn’t properly experienced rock music.
Everything from his penchant for going on stage wearing nothing but boots and a bass guitar strapped across his genitals to his always well-trimmed ginger beard mark him out as one of the last decade’s coolest musicians. Anyone who’s seen him perform with QOTSA, Mondo Generator, The Dwarves, or any of the other numerous acts he’s turned up in, will testify to this fact.
Better Living Through Chemistry
As we’ve mentioned, drugs are a pretty big reference point on Rated R. In case the title of this track wasn’t a clue enough, then it’s worth stressing that they become important again here.
If the desert music scene was all about stoners in the ‘90s then here LSD becomes the name of the game here. That classic intro - with bongos, reverb heavy piano and driving bass - mixes elements of Acidy Beatles and the more trippy ends of ‘70s prog. Then there are the lyrics…
Monsters In The Parasol
Monsters In The Parasol, the third song to be released as a single from Rated R, first appeared in 1998 on Volume 4 of Josh Homme’s Desert Sessions project.
The Desert Sessions were a project that Homme started in 1997 at the Rancho De La Luna studio in his native Joshua Tree, California. So far ten volumes of the collaborative recording project have been released, featuring contributions from Homme, PJ Harvey, Josh Freese and members of Kyuss, Screaming Trees and Soundgarden among many others.
Originally recorded as Monster In The Parasol, the track was performed on Volume 4 by a band featuring both Homme and Oliveri under the moniker of The Green Monarchs. The original is a slightly more sedate, churning stoner rock affair than the QOTSA version - although the version that appears on Rated R is still one of the most Kyuss-like, stoner-rock-influenced moments on the album. Check out the YouTube clip below of the Desert Sessions version.
Homme has stated in a number of interviews over the last decade that Monsters In The Parasol is about a bad experience he had while on LSD. Listening to the lyrics we’re not doubting that claim one bit.
Listen: The Green Monarchs - Monster In The Parasol (from Desert Sessions Vol. 4)
Quick And To The Pointless
Nick Oliveri takes lead vocal duties on Quick And To The Pointless. Homme has mentioned in interviews that the vocal take used on the recording was originally just meant to be a scratch (ie rough) vocal for the band to work to while they recorded the instrument parts.
However, Homme and Oliveri both liked the rough and aggressive nature of vocal take that they kept it and used it for the finished recording. Which could explain the origin of Oliveri saying “I don’t even know what I’m doing here” at the beginning of the recording. Or maybe they just put that in because it sounded cool. Who knows? We’re just speculating here.
Great song though, and always a highlight of their live shows around that time.
In The Fade/Feel Good Hit Of The Summer (Reprise)
In The Fade is notable as it is the first time that former Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan takes lead vocal duties (although he also appears as a backing vocalist on Leg Of Lamb, Auto-Pilot and I Think I Lost My Headache).
Josh Homme had previously acted as a touring guitarist for Screaming Trees in the mid-‘90s following the break-up of Kyuss. When Screaming Trees finally ended their 15 year career in 2000 Lanegan joined the ranks of QOTSA and continued to play with the band until ’05.
Lanegan is actually, after Homme, QOTSA’s longest standing member. Despite leaving the ranks of their live line-up in ’05 he has continued to make appearances on every studio record since.
In The Fade is easy to overlook when surrounded by the catchier, more full-on tracks on Rated R, but in retrospect it’s one of the albums most emotive, tender and, as a result, most interesting songs.
Tension head is a re-recording of the song 13th Floor by Mondo Generator, Nick Oliveri’s main band.
The track originally appeared on Mondo Generator’s debut album Cocaine Rodeo, which was recorded in 1997 but not released until 2000, around the same time as Rated R. Homme acted as guitarist for Mondo Generator until ’04, so the dynamic between him and Oliveri on the original version is similar to the Rated R recording.
Mondo Generator, however, are a band with more of a hard-edged, punk and metal influenced vibe than QOTSA. Unsurprisingly Mondo’s version is even rougher and harder than QOTSA’s version. Listen below.
Listen: Mondo Generator - 13th Floor
Lightning song is the only song on Rated R where a songwriting credit goes to David Catching.
Catching is the owner of the Rancho De La Luna studio where QOTSA recorded their debut album and where the majority of Homme’s Desert Session volumes have been recorded.
Catching also picks up credits for playing a whole variety of instruments across the album’s duration, including electric piano, lap steel and 12-string guitar.
As for the song itself, it’s a short, sedate number. Maybe not Rated R’s most memorable moment, but a welcome change of mood between the full-on Tension Head and the tense I Think I Lost My Headache.
I Think I Lost My Headache
Josh Homme has been quoted as saying that this, the closing track on Rated R, is his personal favourite on the album.
Personally we love this one for the two minute horn outro- where the grungy riffs eventually drop out to leave just this discordant brass section to finish the album off.
Homme has been known to state that I Think I Lost My Headache is meant to evoke a sense of paranoia, and those eerie horns certainly seem to leave us with that impression. It’s a classic ending to an album; we don’t think you could find a better way to round-off an album like Rated R than this.
Bonus tracks/ verdict
In terms of bonus content, this reissue of Rated R comes with a hand-full of b-sides, unreleased tracks and a live set from Reading Festival in 2000.
The studio tracks are a bit of a mixed bag. Ode To Clarissa will be familiar to anyone who picked up an original vinyl copy of Rated R, as it was a bonus track there too, and it’s a pretty good, classic QOTSA sounding number.
You’re So Vague is a slightly odd half-parody of Carly Simon’s You’re So Vein, although it doesn’t really resemble that song very much. Never Say Never, on the other hand, is a cover of a minor hit single by Romeo Void from the early ‘80s. It sounds a little out of character for QOTSA, oddly dance-punk-ish, in a way.
The live set is nice to hear. Reassuringly at least a third of the MusicRadar team can (hazily) remember being in the audience for this Reading Fest performance. We remember it being a fairly jam-orientated set from a band who were as much on form as they were obviously on a certain amount of illicit substances. Listening back to it now brings back good memories…
So in all the bonus content here is far from essential stuff, but it’s still nice to hear. Either way the extra stuff is fairly irrelevant; in case you haven’t guessed over the last twelve slides, we think Rated R is pretty essential listening.
It still sounds pretty much as fresh and exciting in 2010 as it did when we first heard it ten years ago; a unique, genre defining and influential record.
It’s also, fairly inexplicably, been out of print for several years now. So the fact that we can now pick-up a vinyl copy, having missed out first time round, is very good news however you look at it.
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