Everyone at some point wants to be in a band; it may be when they’re 15 and playing air guitar in front of the mirror whilst discovering Hendrix, or when they’re 30 and they’ve realised their youth has passed them by, or 50 and still believing they have must have some kind of deeper purpose in life and that purpose may well be music. I don’t believe there is anybody, no matter of their age, gender, job or class, who hasn’t wanted to be pop star, rock star or badass band member. If there is somebody, I wouldn’t want to know them.
I’ve always wanted to be in a band but I’ve come to accept the sad reality that even though I sing a bit and play bass a bit, I will never be the next Molly McGuire, simply because I’m not cool enough. The kid in School of Rock said it right; “People in bands are cool”. I’ve never been cool and never will be.
Sometimes though, when alone and free of the judging eyes of the hipsters which I strive to become, I whack on some cool music full blast, jump around and pretend in my head that I’m in a really awesome band. Don’t judge me, because everyone’s done it, even the truly cool kids have done it. I’ve found that one of the best albums for this activity is the first, self-titled album by Queens of the Stone Age..
Queens of the Stone Age formed from the leftovers of Josh Homme’s stoner-rock band Kyuss, and because of this it would be easy to think that QoTSA’s first album is a simple extension of Kyuss’ superheavy noise. But it’s not. This album has a far more chilled, mind-bending sound, with trippy lyrics and repetitive brain-smushing riffs. It’s an experiment, more than anything else. Frontman Homme is getting to grips with being the face of a rock band and with the sounds in his head which he wants to make into reality. It’s not a perfect album, it has plenty of flaws, but it epitomises the young, raw, excited first steps of a new band. And therefore it epitomises exactly how I get lost in my head thinking about my own pretend band.
Queens of the Stone Age has simple, loud and meaty riffs accompanied by lyrics about getting stoned, fancying girls and casual self-harm. Compare it to the complex layers of Songs for the Deaf tracks, which have varying textures, volumes and rhythms and sometimes almost poetic lyrics (take the creepy bonus track ‘Mosquito Song’ which, with the accompaniment of an entire orchestra, becomes almost operatic) and it’s easy to see how QoTSA have grown up over the years. But the debut album lets you experience the early QoTSA lifestyle; its loud, intoxicated, tortured, very sweaty and more than anything else, incredibly fun.
The opening track, ‘Regular John’, immediately sets the tone of the album. Vocalist Josh Homme asks “Who are you, girl? / Cos I’m so bored with myself”. You can picture him at some teenage house party, attempting to get laid and acting all casual with the ladies. The chorus gets a bit clingy as he starts getting poetic in that tragic teenager-in-love way; “Open up your eyes / Open up your room / Open up your arms”. He says a few random numbers and a phone starts beeping, seemingly to show that the girl he chatted up gave him a fake number. Tragic and realistic, and accompanied by loud yet laid back guitars and angry drums, this track is the perfect opener.
We see the progression of Homme’s relationship with this girl through the album. That’s right, I like to I like to interpret entire albums as long stories, like musical novels. We did already establish I’m not cool, right?
On ‘Walking on the Side Walk’ he simply tells her “I wish we could get away / Drink wine and screw”. As romantic as that seems, she must have turned him down because by ‘You Can’t Quit Me, Baby’ he’s resorted to stalking. Bit much, you might think, but the opening bass steps out a chilled beat, making the song catchy, relaxing and, in Homme’s words at a live performance “something to dance to”. He wails over the top of uncharacteristically quiet guitars with heart wrenched lyrics; “It’s a mistake, but who knows? / Followed your friends, crawled in your window / Life is a trip when you’re psycho in love / And I knowwww…”. It starts out adequately creepy and gets worse; “Followed your friends, you were not there / Slashed and I cut, and I bled in the sink”. It’s crude, intense, freaky and pretty melodramatic, but the accompanying music is chilled out and subtle enough that it actually makes you feel completely relaxed.
Most of the other songs on the album are mind-numbing, in a good way. They’re loud, repetitive and obviously composed whilst the band were tanked up on drugs and booze, or thinking about getting tanked up on drugs and booze. ‘You Would Know’ is the result of a hallucinogenic trip; “Me just happy robot / Live on hill of beans / You and I cut from same cloth / Ripping at the seams.” It doesn’t make sense, and nor does the jarring, awkward and almost unpleasant music on this track. But it still works and makes you want to listen to it over and over again, mainly just to piss other people off. After extensive research, I’ve discovered this is most effective when played full blast whilst stuck in traffic behind the wheel of an orange Fiat Seicento. That’s my rock and roll lifestyle.
For me lyrics are often the most important part of music. Whether it is Tom Waits growling about the crooks loitering on dodgy city streets, or Missy Elliott waxing lyrical about her lady parts, as long as they’re original, unusual, freaky or poetic, they’re good. Lyrics need to say something, tell a story and bring a striking picture to mind. More than anything else they should portray the artist’s perspective on life, whether it be skewed by years of illegal substances, skewed by an overinflated ego, skewed by a dodgy upbringing or simply skewed because they’re naturally skewed in the head. I suppose I believe that the best artists, or those who are in my opinion the best, are freaky and twisted people who can create freaky and twisted images with music and lyrics.
In my opinion Josh Homme is an amazing lyricist because he does exactly that, and although he has improved as a wordsmith over the years there are glimpses in the first album, particularly on ‘Mexicola’ – a beastly song, in a good way. The opening bass is deep, heavy and insistent, making you listen right from the start. The guitar joins and the opening builds and builds, until Homme’s wailing vocals come crashing in. The lyrics simultaneously make no sense but complete sense; “Speak in tongues, speak in lies / Drooling livers born to die / It’s a wonder that those guns don’t point at you”. I don’t know what he means but I know exactly the sort of person he’s talking about. It makes you think, but doesn’t make you think too much; the perfect amount of thinking for someone who wants to be drunk, high, in a band and more than anything, cool.
In one of QoTSA’s live performances which was recorded for their live album Over the Years and Through the Woods, Josh Homme spoke important and profound words to his fans. He said “I wanna have fun, man. I wanna have fuckin’ fun. I wanna get drunk, I wanna get laid, I wanna fuckin’ do cool shit. You with me? You fuckin’ with me?” Yes, Josh. If it makes me even a little bit cooler, then yes I am.