Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age
By Eamon O'Neill
“2002’s greatest living rock band” (NME), boasts the garish yellow sticker on the front of the vinyl cover of Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘Songs for the Deaf’, and in that year, they might just have been.
Rising from the ashes of cult desert rock heroes Kyuss, QOTSA was the brainchild of Josh Homme. A vehicle for his singular vision, as history will dictate they were more of a collective built around the singer / guitarist than a band, with collaborators coming in and out of the picture as their story unfolded. ‘Songs for the Deaf’ then, is perhaps the greatest example of the magic created by Homme’s devilish detail.
Releasing their self-titled debut in 1998, commercial success arrived in 2000 with the astounding ‘Rated R’. Featuring breakout single ‘The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret’ along with the deceptively-titled ‘Feel Good Hit of the Summer’, it was also the first to feature key member and bassist Nick Oliveri - himself a Kyuss alumnus - and troubadour singer song writer Mark Lanegan.
With both signed on for the next album, all they needed was the right drummer. Enter a certain Dave Grohl who, struggling with the direction of his three-album old Foo Fighters, sought a sabbatical. Grohl might not have had the deserved stature that he has today, but he was highly respected nonetheless, and oh boy, could he hit them drums hard, which is exactly what the Queens of the Stones Age’s heaviest album needed.
With both Queens and Kyuss originating out of Califirnia’s Palm Desert region, ‘Songs For the Deaf’ served as the perfect soundtrack for a trip out into the arid Joshua Tree area from Los Angeles. With radio DJs providing commentary throughout, it was indeed, as the first announcer proclaimed, “a saga!”
Opening with the demented vocal delivery of Oliveri on ‘You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire’ - often shortened to the much less of a mouthful ‘Millionaire’ - it was clear that the outfit’s chart success hadn’t softened them a single iota in the two years since ‘Rated R’.
However commercial success would not elude them this time around either, and monster hit ‘No One Knows’ followed. It was here that the genius addition of Grohl proved a master stroke, with his full force rhythms and Neal Peart-esque drum rolls turning a great song into an even better one. “Dave came in and made songs that I thought were really good, absolutely phenomenal”, said Oliveri speaking to eonmusic in 2018; “Oh my god, it was just killing, like; “You’re so good on drums, man!”. It was ridiculous, it really was.” By far the album’s best-known track, it’s their most-played song on Spotify, while the video has garnered over 166 million plays on YouTube.
The brutal ‘A Song for the Dead’ again utilised Grohl to his fullest, with his off-beat patterns the perfect foil for Homme and Oliveri’s staccato riffing, with Lanegan adding the perfect atmospheric vocal.
‘The Sky is Fallin’ meanwhile, drove along on a doomy, Sabbath-esque riff over which Homme’s Beatles-like melodies lifted the track beyond cliche, while the relentless ‘Hangin' Tree’ again featured the perfectly-suited ragged vocal timbre of Lanegan.
Elsewhere, ‘Go with the Flow’ gave them another hit single, charting in both the U.K. and Ireland, with ‘First it Giveth’ also making a dent in the U.K. top 40.
Nearing the end of the record, ‘God Is in the Radio’ ebbed along on a sexy, lazy rhythm that is almost seductive, while the Oliveri-led ‘Another Love Song’ cruised on a decidedly sixties’ vibe. Concluding with the maniacal ‘A Song for the Deaf’ and validating the hype sticker’s boast, it might just be the most perfect record of the 2000s’.
Reissued on vinyl in 2019, the 2LP set also adds ‘Mosquito Song’, which featured as a bonus track on the original release.
Summing up the album, Oliveri told eonmusic; “That was a real interesting time in my life, and it actually reflects on the recordings and on the music; the different vibes that some of the songs take you through. For me, it’s the peak of our work.”
Although Oliveri would part ways with Queens and Homme in 2004, he would remain upbeat. Speaking to the author in 2022 he said; “we’ve know each other for so long it’s just weird to be at each other's throats”, he said; “It ran its course. We’re still friends, it’s just that we don’t make music together right now. We did so much in a five-year period that we kind of burned out on each other. It’s one of those things where it used to bother me a lot, but it doesn’t anymore.”
Mark Lanegan would sadly pass away in 2022, and it was his passing that would ultimately bring the ‘Songs For the Deaf’ team back together, for a few hours at least anyhow. Said Oliveri in the same interview; “I saw him [Homme] at Mark Lanegan’s funeral, and we were in good spirits remembering Mark. We had all the crew there, and the whole band was there that was from that era, at that funeral.”
‘Songs for the Deaf’ remains a monster record, and a testament to the talents who came together to create it.
1. You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar But I Feel Like a Millionaire
2. No One Knows
3. First It Giveth
4. A Song for the Dead
5. The Sky Is Fallin'
6. Six Shooter
7. Hangin' Tree
8. Go With the Flow
9. Gonna Leave You
1. Do It Again
2. God Is in the Radio
3. Another Love Song
4. A Song for the Deaf
5. Mosquito Song