Queens Of The Stone Age ‘Rated R’ Turns 15- looking back on a a feel-good summer hit on its 15th anniversary.
June 6, 2015 marks the 15th anniversary of QOTSA’s sophomore album Rated R, a disc that broke the band worldwide, and made them the première rock act for those of discerning tastes.
Co-produced by frontman Josh Homme and Masters of Reality’s Chris Goss at the famed Sound City Studio, it’s remarkable not just for its memorable tunes, but for its idiosyncratic nature, which stuck out like a sore thumb during the height of Nu-Metal in 2000.
The hit first single Lost Art Of Telling A Secret showed a very different type of heavy: where twinkling xylophone meshed with desert guitar crunch and Homme’s airy falsetto whispering conspiratorial sweet nothings:
I think you already know/How far I’d go not to say/You know the art isn’t gone/And I’m taking my song to the grave
The MPAA movie ratings-related album cover was a dig at the band’s record label Interscope, who were nervous about the lyrical subject matter. Ironically the album art substituted for a parental advisory sticker and it was released censor free.
The band were clearly having fun with the concept however, and made sure to include a rating system for each track in the liner notes (examples include ‘Contains: Nudity, Sexual Content and Paranoid Delusions’ on Leg of Lamb and ‘Contains: Paranoia, Delusions and Blind Faith’ on I Think I Lost My Headache.)
Why were execs so nervous? Hard to say, because it’s obvious in Feel Good Hit Of The Summer that Homme is taking the piss by using a laundry list of drugs for the song’s lyrics (oddly enough it’s been used in several anti-drunk driving PSA’s).
It’s a musical in-joke, but a slamming one, with a simple yet insistent riff. The song shifts into overdrive when Judas Priest’s Rob Halford shows up on backing vocals.
In a time where rock music was so overly filled with testosterone, QOTSA, by both their name and musical sensibility offered a sexier gender-bender friendly view of rock and roll, which became a huge part of their appeal. Likewise their Ween-like sense of humor (who they toured with in ’98) set them apart from the woe is me post-grunge crowd.
Bassist/vocalist Nick Oliveri’s unhinged demeanor provided perfect counterpoint to Homme’s more subdued attitude. He sounds straight out of the asylum on Quick and To The Pointless, starting off with his classic soundbite: I don’t even know what I’m doing here!
It’s a song recorded all in one take, with his unhinged delivery aided by buzzsaw guitars and cheerleader hand claps.
The album’s improvisational feel and rotating vocalists gave a clear sign of how much Queens didn’t operate like a typical rock band. Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan sings with Homme on In The Fade, a song that shows how the band can subvert pop melodies through their fuzz rock wizardry.
Production wise, it’s solid; just listen to Better Living Through Chemistry: the song starts with Sympathy for the Devil congas, and slowly layers of keyboards, guitars and Homme’s spectral vocals coalesce, offering truly mind-altering psychedelia.
Speaking of mind-altering, it’s that sense of mental instability that’s thethrough line of the Rated R, as shown on Homme’s favorite track I Think I’ve Lost My Headache, of which he’s said: Paranoia-when you think something strange is going on, and everyone around you is so adamant about telling you it’s fine… but then you start thinking ‘Wouldn’t that be exactly what you’d say if you didn’t want me to know, and there is something going on?’ And so it’s kind of about that paranoid mentality which maybe I have sometimes.
It’s somewhat odd that Rated R served as the launching point for Homme and Oliveri’s superstardom, given their underrated stoner rock act Kyuss has a more instantly accessible heaviness. But maybe their left-of-center vibe was just what metal fans needed to wash the Limp Bizkit out of their ears.
QOTSA would of go on to their commercial peak with the follow-up Songs From the Deaf, and still have a loyal following (although Oliver’s absence is still felt). But Rated R still sounds as fresh as it did in 2000, a feel good hit of the summer…or any other time of the year. I think I’ll crank it up now…
Want to own Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘Rated R’ special edition on Amazon or iTunes? Order via the proper links below: