Queens Of The Stone Age - Songs For The Deaf

by James Gerard Rating:10 Release Date:2002-08-27

It’s hard to believe that it has already been fifteen years since the Josh Homme-led Queens Of The Stone Age crashed head on into the mainstream with their third album Songs For The Deaf, but time, oh how it does fly.  Formed from the ashes of the trailblazing stoner-rock outfit Kyuss, QOTSA had already tasted some minor success with their second album Rated R, which garnered generous airplay via the aptly titled “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”.  And so the table was set, and with Songs For The Deaf everything finally came together.

A quasi-concept record of sorts, Homme imagined Songs For The Deaf as the musical accompaniment for a midnight desert drive, complete with static-laced interludes that imply changing stations up and down the radio dial.  And while that all sounds a bit lofty, the idea was executed brilliantly as the album effectively married the impressive spectrum and diversity of Rated R with a focused batch of songs enhanced by an ‘everything-up-front’ mix.

While Queens’ records had always been a bit of an exercise in musical chairs, with numerous guest-stars typically adorning each release, Songs For The Deaf was a period of change and upheaval for the band, as it marked the arrival of Mark Lanegan (in a permanent capacity as he had previously only guested on records) as well as the exit of both longtime drummer (Gene Trautmann) and eventually Homme’s right hand man Nick Oliveri (who left after the following tour).  An apparently volatile mix of artistic perspectives, Songs For The Deaf was the first and the last time this lineup would appear on record together.

One of the first things that becomes clear mere seconds into the de-facto album opener “You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire” is that the drumming of Dave Grohl brings adds a completely new dimension to the band’s songs.  And while it may have completely saturated the airwaves back in 2002, the follow-up hit “No One Knows” is still an undeniably catchy song (albeit a head-scratching quirky choice for a single), and a striking testament to just how far this band had come.

While the Kyuss-invoking sludge is still there, most notably on tracks like “The Sky is Fallin’” and “God Is On The Radio”, the band is most effective when the muscular riffs take a back seat to Homme’s increasingly confident croon.  Songs like herky-jerky “First It Giveth” and the blistering “Go With The Flow” reveal just how confident Homme had become with his voice and role as de-facto front-man.  That isn’t to say that Lanegan’s or Oliveri’s vocal contributions are lacking, as their tracks (“Six Shooter”, “Gonna Leave You”, "Hangin' Tree", etc.) are key to the album’s pace and momentum, it’s just that Homme’s voice has clearly become the band’s signature sound by this point.  While the front half of Songs For The Deaf was an exercise in ‘lean and mean’ songwriting, the second half stretches out into more familiar territory for the band, saving some of the record’s best moments (the Lanegan sung “God Is In the Radio” and the epic closing title track) for last.                                                                                                                                

The true test for any work of art is how it measures against the test of time, and in this regard, music is an especially brutal medium.  So the obvious question is how does this album hold up some fifteen years later, free from the hype of the moment?  With the benefit of hindsight, it is safe to say that Songs For The Deaf represents the Queens of the Stone Age at their creative peak; a collection of tunes so steeped in tongue-in-cheek swagger and innuendo-laced bravado that all these years later, the record still feels as fresh as the day it was released.

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars
  • Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Great review! Think the self-titled debut is my favourite QOTSA album overall but this is still an absolute belter. Remember it coming out and being really excited, having got reasonably obsessed with Rated R and it didn't disappoint :)