Jan. 8, 2003 - City Pages: Songs for the Deaf Review
by Catherine Clements
It's amazing what one disc can do for a musical genre. In 1987, Appetite for Destruction made glam metal accessible and melodic--and it also made purple eyeshadow a viable fashion choice for angry young men. More than a decade later (and on a smaller scale), Queens of the Stone Age's Rated R rescued hard rock from its depressive tailspin with tunes that were edgy and inventive. But whereas Rated R established the Queens as the brightest hope for rock, their follow-up, Songs for the Deaf, clearly aims to cement their star position.

The Queens still have their trademark sound: Josh Homme's massive guitar attack and cool croon; bassist Nick Oliveri's I'll rip off your fucking face screeches; Hunter S. Thompson-worthy lyrics; and humongous production that seems to feature 1,200 instrumental interludes per song. But compared with their last album, the guitars are gianter, the riffs are huger, and the VU meters push red on all tracks. This isn't pure rock 'n' roll: It's been cut with metal to make it palatable to a generation of Extreme™ kids who desperately need quality listening material.

Homme and Oliveri are aided by guest vocalist Mark Lanegan and by now-departed member Dave Grohl, who attacks his drums with an intensity that erases almost all memories of "Learning to Fly." The band rewards Grohl's assistance by turning up the percussion so high in the mix that the disc could be re-titled The Snare Drum (featuring members of QOTSA). Grohl's fierce drumming propels the neck-spraining anthems "No One Knows" and "First It Giveth," but the disc's tastiest moments come from lighter tunes such as the piano-sprinkled "Go with the Flow," or the ersatz ode to romance, the reverb-drenched "Another Love Song."

Yet despite the undeniable excellence and skill of the band members, Songs is a strangely reductive, vacant album. It moves relentlessly on one speed in one direction with no missteps but also precious few magic moments. The element of risk is the great thing about the Queens, but sadly there's no room for sonic experimentation. The album roars past in a dizzying blur of drums and pentatonic riffs. Then it's over.

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