Tornadoes, while not traditionally known as positive forces in the world, certainly provide for some excitement, amazement, and entertainment. Much like a car accident, we all want to see what happened, the ensuing destruction, and if we're lucky, a body or two. Exhibit A: Twister. No matter how many times I watch this flick, I still come back just to see that dad get sucked out of the cellar, and the cow hurdle across the screen.
However, not all tornados necessarily result in disasters. Exhibit B: Nick Oliveri. Even though he is widely considered wild and destructive, Oliveri brought nothing but fortune and dynamic to the Queens of the Stone Age. While ex-band mate Josh Homme described Oliveri's behavior as "a tornado," you've got to admit, he's what brought aggression, danger, and violence to the band. When Homme fired Oliveri from QOTSA, it resulted in the ending of a fantastic songwriting duo that had lasted more than a decade, going all the way back to when they were in Kyuss.
On Lullabies to Paralyze, the QOTSA's latest and first release without Oliveri, the lack of dynamic songwriting is fully apparent. Homme has constructed solid, melodic, and catchy rock songs on Lullabies, but without the sense of anxiety and paranoia that has always accompanied the QOTSA sound. Following 2002's platinum success Songs for the Deaf, Lullabies sounds less like the stoner rock leaders that helped form the genre and more like a pop-driven QOTSA impersonator.
Instead of the strong balance between delicate pop melodies and aggressive stoner rock riffs, Homme brings the pop aspect to the forefront, which is not necessarily a bad thing. While Lullabies seems to focus more on the pop aspect of songwriting, it does not go without saying they are still great rock songs. "Little Sister" is an infectious first single that will ensure both high airplay and a broader fan base in the same sense that "No One Knows" did for Songs for the Deaf. At the same time, the song manages to appease long-time QOTSA fans with exceedingly distorted guitars, their eerie signature harmonies, and a fantastic solo to cap off the song. But there's no mistaking that it happens to be one of QOTSA's most poppy tracks ever. Likewise, "Burn the Witch" takes a much more radio friendly route, sounding more like the White Stripes' garage rock than stoner rock; even the drumming sounds like they had Meg White sit in. This track, while potentially a White Stripes hit, draws a grimace to hear the QOTSA sacrifice their style in order to make a commercially friendly song. And Homme still manages to take a jab at Oliveri on "Everybody Knows That You're Insane." This track, like many on Lullabies, sounds like it could've been B-side to Rated R.
Unfortunately, the strong points in Lullabies to Paralyze tend to be the weak points as well. Without Oliveri, the band doesn't sound nearly as intense or excited, and it shows. The album lags a bit, and instead of not knowing what to expect track-to-track, Lullabies becomes very predictable and droning. In a recent interview, Homme referred to the album as something "like a long, slow, comfortable fuck." But like all lengthy fucks, chafing begins and that uncomfortable rub starts to hurt; then, you go numb. In that sense Lullabies achieves its goal: it starts out great, but by the end of the album, you forgot you were listening.
Before Lullabies to Paralyze could even be committed to tape, frontman Josh Homme was faced with several important choices. And none was going to be more crucial than his decision to fire close friend and bassist Nick Oliveri. Was it the appropriate decision to make? I don't think we'll ever know. All we can really do is take the music that is Lullabies to Paralyze and compare it to all previous Queens of the Stone Age material.
If my opinion were to be based solely on the album's opening song, "Medication," then I would say that I have very few concerns. But while the grooving riffs and vocal harmonies are catchy, the drumming skills appear a little sub par in my opinion. But that's what happens when you go from Dave Grohl to Joey Castillo. This is an expected loss. Although Homme has denied it, the lyrics of the aptly titled "Everybody Knows that You're Insane" could be construed as shots at Oliveri. For example: "You aught to know why you feel so hollow / 'cause you are / 'You're missing out' / Well, if you say so." Those are some mighty arrogant words for only the second song into the album.
I am going to take a guess and say that "Tangled Up in Plaid" will be the next single, as it is quite evocative of "No One Knows." It also wouldn't suprise me if "Burn the Witch" was a single. I have already heard several comparisons of it to The White Stripes. Maybe I am just blinding myself to the truth due to my disgust of that band, but I don't really hear that when I listen to the song. Instead, my ears tune into the unique guitar playing. ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons' vocal and guitar contributions gives the song a little southern appeal, which compliments the Queens of the Stone Age sound impeccably.
By now you're familiar with the album's first single, "Little Sister." Apparently Homme has a fever, and the only cure is more cowbell. Homme and company have pieced together another radio gem that manages to embarrass everything else on the air. Halfway through the album one main difference is already apparent. As a longtime Homme fan dating back to his Kyuss days, I was expecting the typical Queens of the Stone Age vibe to persist, but I'm already seeing hints that there is a severe lack of intensity, which is what Oliveri brought to the band.
If you're looking for the ultimate riff you'll probably find it in "Someone's in the Wolf" or "The Blood is Love." Both of these cuts revisit the Zeppelin inspired guitars that embodied songs like "Walkin' On" and "Song for the Deaf." Unfortunately, this vigor isn't evident on all the songs of the album.
Disappointment does set in at times over the course of Lullabies to Paralyze. A perfect example takes place on "You've Got a Killer Scene There, Man," a song that features the vocal talents of Shirley Manson and Brody Dalle. In fact, mentioning them as contributors is unnecessary for their work is practically unnoticeable. Equally as disappointing are "I Never Came" and "Long Slow Goodbye." Neither has much personality; instead they just move from point A to B because they have to.
As a whole, Lullabies to Paralyze is a somewhat fitting transition for Queens of the Stone Age. Homme has regressed back to a style more in line with the earlier releases the band put out, yet he still finds a way to bring the mainstream pop/rock appeal to these songs. Home has perfected this formula, but in doing so he, at times, can seem slightly repetitive. Perhaps the "tornado" could have livened things up just a tad.