Album Review: Queens of the Stone Age, "Era Vulgaris" (Interscope)
There's a fuzzy buzz that rattles and hums through the latest Queens of the Stone Age opus. The question is: where is the line drawn between a minimalistic and stripped-down approach to production, and an album that essentially sounds incomplete and minimalistic in its follow-through? Wherever the line, Queens of the Stone Age straddle it precariously on new release "Era Vulgaris."
A melodic swoon sweeps through the slow and droning march of opener "Turnin' on the Screw" and "Sick, Sick, Sick" follows with a frenetic fervor, the album opening like a de-mechanized take on Nine Inch Nails' "Year Zero." "I'm Designer" offers the first slice of frontman Josh Homme's sultry, desert soul, his vocals ebbing and flowing through the dense musical offering like surf rock being swept up in a sandstorm; "3's & 7's" offers a bounty of musical treasures at every musical dig; and "Misfit Love" is equally impressive, a full-frontal track that rides a thick Queens groove into a lush tapestry of musical layers and rich vocals.
While the aforementioned trio of songs offer a few shining moments, the album itself only flickers in and out, "Into the Hollow" doing just what the song promises as it swirls into a bittersweet ambience that never really goes anywhere, content to just wallow around and, well, be ambient. There's an urgency to "Battery Acid," but it can't sustain through the song, which never fully unfolds from the galloping gait that kicks it off, and "Suture Up Your Future" is another track that packs a promise at the outset, then fades into oblivion about a third of the way through. Ultimately, that's the same fate that befalls "Vulgaris," as the album has its moment (or three), but ultimately wanes off into oft-forgettable, indie-rock tangents
Many of these tracks are likely to cast themselves in a much friendlier light live, but "Era Vulgaris" isn't a live album, and as a studio effort, the dizzying clamor of the recording ultimately proves about as compelling as the broken bulbs on the cover: cartoonish and cute, in a clumsy sort of way.