Personnel changes have been something Queens Of The Stone Age have made a habit of, but throughout the various line up permutations there had always been a solid core: Nick Oliveri and Josh Homme. Nick, the naked bass-playing hedonist, was probably the only person alive that you could team with Josh to create a pairing where Josh would be described as the sensible, boring one. But no more. Before recording this, the Queens’ fourth studio album, their relationship broke down, Oliveri was unceremoniously dumped from the band and Josh was on his own.
So while it’s an obvious bridge to cross, wondering what this album would have sounded like if Mr Oliveri was still around is little more than speculating on a hypothesis. Anyway, throughout the Queens’ lifespan there has always been a subtle, constant evolution from album to album, possibly due to that high turnover of staff, so Lullabies’ shift into a more occult, more densely fuzzy area doesn’t create any jarring incoherences with previous works. Besides, the proof is in the eating, and from the first spoonful there is never any doubt that Lullabies To Paralyze is a great QOTSA album.
Speaking of previous employees, it’s vaguely appropriate that the opening track brings a welcome return to the incomparably voiced Mark Lanegan, part bear, part Tom Waits and part respiratory disease, to rumble through the Spanish-tinged This Lullaby and create a sense of dread and an immediate desire to pull the covers over your head to protect you from the dark vastness that awaits.
That darkness then lunges at you, as Medication and Everybody Knows That You Are Insane attempt to bury you alive under mountainously droning guitars and muffled vocals. Then, after those unstoppable rhythmic blows, everything gets really macabre. Tangled Up In Plaid dances along on a childish piano before unwinding another monstrous, but oh-so-simple riff to create a beckoning finger of a song, a siren call luring you towards the ritual paganistic sacrifice of primeval guitar sludge that is the magnificent Burn The Witch.
Occasionally the relentlessly foreboding atmosphere becomes too oppressive: Someone’s In The Wolf is epic and experimental, but goes on too long, losing its way in a confused middle section before managing to gather itself up for an exhilarating breakneck finish, while The Blood Is Love is just a bit of an unremarkable dirge. Also, it’s a mark of the aforementioned subtle development the Queens exhibit that two slightly older tracks now don’t sit comfortably with their brethren: In My Head, re-recorded and polished to a poppy shine since its original release on The Desert Sessions 9 & 10 was preferable in it’s earlier dust flecked incarnation, and Little Sister, the most obviously commercial moment, is a bit inconsequential in this company.
Talking about depth is always a bit of a tricky subject after only a couple of days of listening, but with that caveat duly noted, Lullabies feels like an album with far more longevity than Songs For The Deaf. It isn’t as immediate, it takes a little while to hack through the dense jungles that Josh and cohorts surround you with, but it’s worth it. Once you get in though, it’s an intoxicating, dark, hypnotic collection, daring, fearless and proof that the Queens still do it bigger and better than most, seemingly regardless of who actually plays on the record.