Before heading into the studio in early 2004 to record the fourth Queens of the Stone Age album Lullabies to Paralyze, the band's guitarist/vocalist/chief songwriter, Josh Homme, kicked out bassist Nick Oliveri for undisclosed reasons. Since Homme and Oliveri were longtime collaborators, dating back to the 1990 formation of their previous band, ...
Before heading into the studio in early 2004 to record the fourth Queens of the Stone Age album Lullabies to Paralyze, the band's guitarist/vocalist/chief songwriter, Josh Homme, kicked out bassist Nick Oliveri for undisclosed reasons. Since Homme and Oliveri were longtime collaborators, dating back to the 1990 formation of their previous band, Kyuss, this could have been a cause for concern, but QOTSA is not an ordinary band, so ordinary rules do not apply. Throughout their history, from Kyuss through Queens of the Stone Age's 2002 breakthrough Songs for the Deaf, Homme and Oliveri have been in bands whose lineups were as steady as quicksand; their projects were designed to have a revolving lineup of musicians, so they can withstand the departure of key musicians, even one as seemingly integral to the grand scheme as Oliveri -- after all, he left Kyuss in 1994 and the band carried on without him. Truth is, the mastermind behind QOTSA has always been Josh Homme -- he's the common thread through the Kyuss and QOTSA albums, the guy who has explored a similar musical vision on his side project Desert Sessions -- and since he's wildly indulging his obsessions on Lullabies to Paralyze, even hardcore fans will be hard-pressed to notice the absence of Oliveri here. Sure, there are some differences -- most notably, Lullabies lacks the manic metallic flourishes of their earlier work, and the gonzo humor and gimmicks, such as the radio DJ banter on Deaf, are gone -- but it all sounds like an assured, natural progression from the tightly wound, relentless Songs for the Deaf. That album contained genuine crossover pop tunes in "No One Knows" and "Go with the Flow," songs that retained QOTSA's fuzzy, heavy neo-psychedelic hard rock and were channeled through an irresistible melodic filter that gave the music a serious sexiness that was nearly as foreign to the band as the undeniable pop hooks. Homme has pulled off a surprise of a similar magnitude on Lullabies to Paralyze; he doesn't walk away from these breakthroughs but marries them to the widescreen art rock of R and the dark, foreboding metal of Kyuss, resulting in a rich, late-night, cinematic masterpiece. One of the reasons QOTSA have always been considered a musician's band is that they are masters of mood, either sustaining tension over the course of a six-minute epic or ratcheting up excitement in the course of a two-minute blast, all while using a familiar palette of warm, fuzz-toned guitars, ghostly harmonies, and minor-key melodies. While Lullabies is hardly a concept album, its songs play off each other as if it were a song cycle, progressing from the somber Mark Lanegan-sung opening salvo of "This Lullaby" and steadily growing spookier with each track, culminating in the scary centerpiece "Someone's in the Wolf." The key to QOTSA's darkness is that it's delivered seductively -- this isn't an exercise in shallow nihilism, there's pleasure in succumbing to its eerie, sexy fantasies -- and that seductiveness is all musical. Specific lyrics don't matter as much as how Homme's voice blends into the band as all the instruments bleed together as one, creating an elastic, hypnotic force that finds endless, fascinating variations on a seemingly simple sound. Simply put, there is no other rock band in 2005 that is as pleasurable to hear play as QOTSA -- others may rock harder or take more risks, but no one has the command and authority of QOTSA at their peak, which they're certainly at here. They are so good, so natural on Lullabies to Paralyze, that it's easy to forget that they just lost Oliveri, but that just makes Homme's triumph here all the more remarkable. He's not only proven that he is the driving force of Queens of the Stone Age, but he's made an addictive album that begs listeners to get lost in its ever-shifting moods and slyly sinister sensuality. [This release of the album contains bonus material.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi