It’s been 16 long years since Josh Homme sent out invitations to a group of musicians to join him out in the high desert for a few days.
The last time it happened was in 2003 and a whole lot has happened for Homme in that time. Queens of the Stone Age has been the cornerstone, but there’s been time served with Them Crooked Vultures, Eagles of Death Metal and numerous other projects. That he’s gone back to this cooperative after all this time is encouraging because with every release Homme puts out, to his credit - whether it’s perceived as a “hit” or “miss”, it’s never rote and it never feels phoned in.
With Volumes 11 & 12 (named Arrivederci Despair and Tightwads & Nitwits & Critics & Heels, respectively), it would seem that Homme is once again ready to let loose the reigns and collaborate with a mix of old folks and new. And the result is The Desert Sessions most cohesive collection of songs to date.
“Move Together” starts off with a rather ominous loop and a beautifully raw falsetto courtesy of ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. It’s slow, tantric groove reaches a sexy crescendo before we move into what’s probably the most QOTSA sounding tune of the bunch, “Noses In Roses, Forever”, which would have sounded right at home on the band’s latest offering, Villains.
Homme is, in fact, responsible for lead vocals on only 2 of the 8 tracks on the album (a single release, with 4 tracks comprising each volume). By curtailing his instantly recognizable voice, it really does feel like a true collaborative effort - like Homme’s the genial host of of a party that passed out early, leaving the guests to their own devices and draw their musical dicks on his face.
Highlighting one of these guest vocal performances is Libby Grace, who’s earthy dulcet tone permeates “If You Run”. If there’s a justice on this earth and beyond, we’ll be hearing a lot more from her in the years to come. Other vocal duties are passed on to the likes of Jake Shears, Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr and the unique stylings of Toornst Hulpft, the Unknown Comic of the proceedings and who’s speculative identity has been the source for many a debate since the album’s release. But in this case, the final product proves that the “who” is secondary to the “what”.
The fact that Desert Sessions vol. 11 & 12 was recorded in just a few days is a glaring reminder that a great album doesn’t need to be overthought and overwrought. Hell, the first Black Sabbath album was recorded in a single day in 1969. Its 50 years later and look what you can accomplish after only a week in the desert.