It would have been all too easy for Josh Homme to re-emerge from the wreckage of Kyuss with an album which built upon the cult success that his former band had enjoyed. Instead, he took a left turn, eschewing stoner rock fuzz for something altogether lither, more abstract and sexier. In doing so, he set the foundations for what is undeniably one of the finest and most distinctive catalogues in modern music.
From its opening moments – the pounding one chord riff augmented with teasing, trebly guitar volume swells which introduces Regular John – Queens Of The Stone Age offers a new vocabulary for rock ‘n’ roll. Though it didn’t drop from a clear blue sky (the influence of The Stooges is immediately apparent, as is the forceful Motorik drive imported from Krautrock heroes Can and Neu!) Homme’s desire to fashion rock music “heavy enough for the boys and sweet enough for the girls” ensure that the album has an altogether more feminine sensibility than most modern rock releases, not least in Homme’s decidedly un-macho vocals and in the swing imparted by Alfredo Hernadez’s drums. Notice of Homme’s intentions had been served by the release of the Gamma Ray EP in 1996, and a limited edition Kyuss/Queens Of The Stone Age split EP in late 1997, but when Queens Of The Stone Age emerged on Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard’s Loosegroove label it sounded fresh, visceral and original, the work of a rock band like no other, which was entirely the point.
The opening tracks could hardly be stronger. Regular John, an unsettling tale of obsession and dark desires, is all insistent, propulsive groove, a perfect encapsulation of a sound Homme would label ‘robot rock’, Avon – originally recorded with Monster Magnet’s John Paul McBain and Soundgarden’s Ben Shepherd for the third release in Homme’s Desert Sessions series – builds and climbs on a stepped Zeppelin-esque riff, and the tambourine-heavy If Only – with its conscious echoes of The Stooges I Wanna be Your Dog – is a stripped-back tale of love gone askew. From this elevated platform, Homme sprawls out in different directions, from the lo-fi rumble of How To Handle A Rope through the hazy narcotic surrealism of Mexicola and its depiction of a world “full of shit and gasoline” to the bouncing, off-kilter swing of the instrumental Hispanic Impressions. Perhaps most striking of all is You Can’t Quit Me Baby, a song which inverts the title of Willie Dixon’s blues classic (later re-interpreted by Led Zeppelin on their debut album), and develops into a dark stalker fantasy (“Followed you home, crawled in your window, This life is a trip when you’re psycho in love”) while simultaneously skewering fragile male egos.
For other bands, a collection of this quality might be a career high, but in truth, Queens Of The Stone Age isn’t even in the top three QOTSA albums. That this is the case speaks highly to Homme’s restless, inquisitive spirit and his constant desire to re-mould and evolve his band’s sound. But as debut albums go, Queens Of The Stone Age is commanding and bold, both a razing of the past and a signpost pointing towards new horizons. As such, it represents the beginning of something very special indeed.