Queens of the Stone Age – ‘Lullabies to Paralyze’

Following the band’s magnum opus “Songs for the Deaf”, it seemed Josh Homme would have a gargantuan task to top that record; and it may well have been an impossible task. Queens’ fourth studio album, Lullabies to Paralyze is a fitting title for a collection of tracks that is equal parts brash and mellow, possessing abilities that knock the listener into a blissful state, as well as wake them up from a ten-year coma.

Prior to recording this album, bassist and collaborator Nick Oliveri was fired, leading to the only returning members from the SFTD era being Josh Homme and Mark Lanegan. Multi-instrumentalist Troy Van Leeuwen steps in and Joey Castillo replaces Dave Grohl who had a short stint recording and touring with the band. A whole host of guest instrumentalists contribute, including Alain Johannes and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons grabbing his axe for a few cuts.

Tonally, the album takes a much darker turn in comparison to their previous three records. The atmosphere is dull, brooding and mysterious with occasional glimmers of light creeping through the cracks. Lanegan sets the mood on opener “This Lullaby” with his down-pitch, almost spoken-word vocals and picked-acoustic guitar.

Homme barges his way through on sequential track “Medication”, a straight-forward rocker returning that classic, up-tempo Queens sound. However, it’s when “Everybody Knows That You’re Insane” commences where the universal dark tone sets in, with echoed guitar lines constructing an airy, chilling atmosphere.

There are lighter and brighter moments, markedly on “In My Head” with its optimistic, mirrored guitar & bass lines. Moreover, the brilliant “I Never Came” featuring fidgety drums and mellow Homme vocals, sandwiching his falsetto in-between the melodic guitar instrumentals.

The strange and outlandish tones reach their climax on “Someone’s in the Wolf”, a jarring and repetitive gauntlet of multi-layered riff refrains and cacophonous drums. Its breakdown establishes a gloomy soundscape, littered with irregular guitar noises, close-proximity whispers and the sound of knives sharpening – something that was most likely born in the dingy depths of Homme’s mind.

The record possesses a good dose of sexiness and swagger – “You Got a Killer Scene There, Man” enables Homme’s guitar improvisation to take centre stage whilst prancing around a courageous bassline. B-side “Like a Drug” wouldn’t sound out of place in a Tarantino flick, with its lo-fi aesthetic and spaghetti-western guitar lines. Whilst being one of the most interesting tracks, tonally, it would seem out of place in the tracklisting.

Closing track “Long Slow Goodbye” connotes multiple emotions – Homme’s vocals may sound cheery, yet a cold, haunting and lonely aesthetic can be heard, mirroring the ever-so-present and realised album themes.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Essential tracks: Little Sister // I Never Came // The Blood Is Love // You’ve Got A Killer Scene There, Man

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