Rated R (2000) ****
Adding a heavy dose of psychedelia and more than a smidgen of pop to the Queens' heavy rock formula makes for an expected rise in quality. First off, this has one element that the debut sorely lacked: a sense of variety. Not that the Queens vary too far into the eclectic soundscape - it's still all mid-tempo rockers, heavy and glammy at the same time, with a handful of thrashy goofs for good measure ("Quick and to the Pointless," and the infamous opening track, the pro-drugs "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," both screamed goofily by bassist Nick Oliveri). The latter manages to be awesomely catchy ("c-c-c-COCAINE!") and rather annoying at the same time, while the "Pointless" lives up to its title. The production makes the guitar fuzz rather mellower yet still bite-y in a metallized Revolver kinda way; I'm sure heavy ingestations of marijuana were responsible for the oddly cuddly vibe to this heavy rock. No, I can't avoid drug references when discussing this album - why would I even try? The band make those stellarly clear themselves, and thus helped usher in the era of "Stoner Rock" as the critics coined and many bands of the genre embraced the label: rejecting the excesses of '80s glam-metal and '90s grunge, and skipping back to the '70s hard rock ethos but with a more modernized sound. You know, taking metal back to its roots, when it was tied to gritty rock'n'roll, not the slickly produced technological horror-show for 13 year olds it morphed into in the '80s. Better songs about such down to earth rock'n'roll topics as drugs and scamming for underage groupies than Corpsevomit and carnivorous erections. OK, so my biases are clear - I detest the vast majority of post-'70s metal, mostly for the polished production values and wheedly-whee guitar tones that divorce it from what I understand to be rock'n'roll. Yeah, rock, but it don't roll. QOTSA actually roll from time to time, perhaps because unlike most metal bands, they don't seem to erase the bass player's parts from the mix - sure, they're as guilty of dynamic overcompression as any modern band, but they have an actual rhythmic groove underneath the guitar parts.
Anyway, back to the album in question, after getting sidetracked (this is a pretty crappy review so far; whatever, QOTSA's second album isn't so important to my life that I feel like rewriting the half hour of my life I've spent so far on this blogpost). "Autopilot," possesses the shock of acoustic guitars (yeah for sonic variety! I mean, HELL YEAH for sonic variety!). Once again Homme makes the mistake of closing the album with a piano ballad, a musical genre for which he has no feel or ability for ("I Think I Lost My Headache"). Fuck no for sonic variety. "Lightning Head," rips your head off with its heaviness like some great lost Black Sabbath IV outtake - hell, for all I know the riff is a Sabbath ripoff; it certainly sounds familiar, doesn't it, though I couldn't identify the source if Nick Oliveri himself offered to split his stash with me. Mark Lanegan (ex-Screaming Trees) offers his soul-grunge vocals for the power-balladic "In the Fade," (actually sorta good - this sonic variety stuff is starting to work out after all). "The Lost Art of Keeping," is a tightly rocking hard-poppy rocker; "Better Living Through Chemistry," is a spacey drugged-out psych-rocker; and "Monster in the Parasol," has a chorus as disappointingly goofy as you'd expect from the title (sigh, maybe that Blue Oyster Cult influence isn't so cool after all) - but it's a solid tune nonetheless. There's really not much filler on this record - nearly all the tracks are worthwhile ("Tension Head," only lasts 34 seconds, so who cares?).