Vinyl Dust-off: Queens of the Stone Age

Lliam Easterbrook looks at Songs for the Deaf

By Lliam Easterbrook
[senior features writer]

5/5 records

After being a fool and spending my rent money on vinyl at the Vancouver Record and CD Convention a few Sundays ago, I naturally had a plethora of vinyl in my possession, and no money for dinner — for myself … or my lady.

On the bright side, I have a shit-load of vinyl to listen to. And she has … well … ears. Anyhow, I thought about just going crazy and reviewing several albums, drawing intricate timelines about the where, what and who of the albums, and then discovering why these albums were significant to art, politics, society and the artists that created them — but then I smoked some potent sativa, listened to Songs For the Deaf and became entranced by the song “God is in the Radio” — and also instantly far too lazy and headspaced and psychologically disheveled to attempt the former — especially since I still have logic homework to do. Yes, logic homework.

This was 10 minutes ago. By now the smoky plumes have been absorbed by my lungs, entered my bloodstream like a group of unshowered fat kids plummeting down a tubular waterslide at the same time, and have decidedly passed the blood-brain barrier, causing my brain to fray all its busted nerve circuits and hazy synapses. What better way to salve such a self-inflicted cognitive lobotomy than 6 minutes and 5 seconds of guitar-driven rock n’ roll?

“God is in the Radio” features ex Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan, one of the godfathers of Seattle’s grunge scene. Lanegan came into the band in late 1999, undertook lead vocal duties on the (groovy) track “In the Fade” — from the Queens’ second full length LP, Rated R, and then continued with his solo work and his drinking and his smoking and his … uh …brooding.

A full-fledged member of the band in recording 2002’s unanimously applauded follow-up, Songs For The Deaf, Lanegan’s gravelly baritone is heard backing frontman Josh Homme on numerous tracks. But it is on “Hangin’ Tree”, “A Song for the Dead” and the aforementioned “God is in the Radio” where he takes the vocal reigns, as it were, and really shows the listener what a voice that has been soaked in whiskey, scarred with cigarette smoke, wrapped in a bag of broken glass and tied to a trailer hitch by chain and dragged down the path to Hell, sounds like. Of course it helps that Homme, bassist Nick Oliveri and drummer Dave Grohl are going there with him — in the black chariot the chain is attached to, of course, pulled by two fiery chimera, naturally, and descending down into the pith of the underworld. But Lanegan, a moody recluse, would likely prefer to go it alone anyway. In fact, he probably volunteered, just for the experience; and his voice, chalked full of smooth grit, reeks of myriad experience.

“God is in the Radio” starts off with a throbbing bass-line and a single note piano stroke before the rolling march-beat comes in, playfully, carnivalesque and Doorsian.

Then Homme’s revolving guitar riff takes over, looping around Grohl’s percussion. Next we’re introduced to Lanegan’s moanful croon, where, lyrically, the song really ties in with the concept of the album, which is driving from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree while flipping radio stations along the way. Interpret the lyrics however you wish — literally or metaphorically — as either religious fundamentalism seeping through various mediums, such as radio (especially in the United States), or, rather, as society’s clear idol worship of pop culture. After all, these songs are for the deaf, and who’s really listening anyway?

Homme’s solos are particularly gratifying, as is the bridge of the song, which slows down to nothing but a backwards whisper. Play it backwards to reveal what’s being said — if you have a turntable. From here the buildup begins, climaxing into another signature Homme solo, then fading out into a 1-2 drum beat, sounding as if you are leaving the room, walking down a long dark corridor, the beat becoming softer and more muffled with every step, and then you’re somewhere else entirely.

Play it loud. Play it proud.