Queens of the Stone Age – Era Vulgaris

Over a span of ten years and five albums, Queens of the Stone Age have had more line-up changes than the Richmond Footy Club has sacked coaches. Yet unlike the lamentable Tigers, who only plummet further into the mire of mediocrity with each sacking, the fluid nature of QOTSA only serves to propel the band to greater heights. It’s almost as if every member knows that each record could be their last and they’re determined to create the very best sound possible. Naturally, Josh Homme is excepted since he’s the supreme overlord of all things QOTSA. The band’s latest album, Era Vulgaris, sees Julian Casablancas of the Strokes drop in to play keyboard guitar, while Nine Inch Nails leading man, Trent Reznor, appears on the title track which was originally taken off the album, then put back on again at the last second as a bonus track. Occasional QOTSA member Mark Lanegan also makes a cameo as a backing vocalist on “River in the Road.”

Era Vulgaris begins pleasantly enough with the opening track, Turnin’ on the Screw. Within moments its slow, heavy drum and funky guitar will have you tapping your foot and nodding your head with your eyes closed as you drift away with the music, when suddenly you’re smacked in the face by the sludgy and explosive metal guitar of “Sick, Sick, Sick.” After the testosterone fuelled“Sick, Sick, Sick” and the cheeky “I’m Designer,” the album changes gears with the melancholy, yet strangely captivating “Into the Hollow.” But before the listener can become too downbeat, future stoner classics “Misfit Love” and “Battery Acid” put the foot firmly back on the accelerator.

The entire album follows the same pattern- bursts of vibrant and infectious rock, surrounded by somber and atmospheric psychedelia; if Queens of the Stone Age was a living, breathing person than it would be diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Lesser bands would struggle with the constant shift in focus, but for QOTSA it’s a strength that is immensely helped by the brilliant melodies that support every song. Albums like Era Vulgaris prove that iPods, though stylish, aren’t the best way to listen to music. Call me a dinosaur, but hitting random play might be great for vanilla tracks with little substance, but to fully appreciate more dense and layered offerings, you really have to listen to the album in its entirety. With Era Vulgaris each song seems to bleed into the next to tell one, complete narrative where the protagonist is adrift in a world that has been corrupted by its own vices.

It’s been ten years since Queens of the Stone Age first emerged from Palm Desert, and this, their fifth album, can sit proudly among their much loved, earlier recordings. Era Vulgaris is a triumphant success from a band that refuses to grow stale and constantly seeks to push the envelope. Easily one of the best albums of 2007.

(Interscope Records)