Queens of the Stone Age
Rated R Deluxe Edition

With the leadoff refrain of “nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstacy and alcohol” (“Feel Good Hit of the Summer”), the start of Rated R, the second album and major label debut by Queens of the Stone Age, would seem to indicate that the band would be continuing in the stoner rock vein of their pedigree. With bassist Nick Oliveri joining singer and guitarist Josh Homme (as well as second guitarist Dave Catching), QOTSA now included two former members of Kyuss, the band which better than anyone epitomized the stoner rock designation.

That was hardly the case. Even more than the band’s self-titled debut record, Rated R was an album that took adjectives like “loud” and “hard” as a given, and then piled on an eclectic vocabulary of sounds. In 2000, there were those who still thought that post-rock and electronica had rung rock’s death knell. While it would take the Strokes (of all groups) to dispel those idiotic notions completely the next year, Rated R clearly shows that if rock had been in hiding, then it was the Queens who had been keeping lookout.

This is an album of pure viscosity, with riffs so thick they seem to take on physical forms. But for every sludgy lick, there’s a melodic hook nestled beside. “Auto Pilot” is layered with the grit grunge left behind, but also Bowie-esque stardust. “Monsters in the Parasol” is thrust along on a lean bass line and guitar riff, but is as much glam hysterics as it is stoner drag. And “Quick and to the Pointless” is similarly equal parts bubblegum and benzedrine. The eight-minute “I Think I Lost My Headache” features Barrett Martin (formerly of Screaming Trees) playing steel drum and is a mixture of voodoo pop and metallic hangover, but it is “Better Living Through Chemistry” that is truly epic, despite its shorter runtime. If you haven’t heard it, imagine OK Computer with some balls, that cold virility channeled through bloodthirsty guitars. The whole album is this combination of the yin and yang sewn together with deceptively sweet ferocity. There was nothing like it at that time and it's probably safe to say that there hasn’t been anything like it since—from the Queens or anyone else.

For this deluxe edition, Interscope has included a second disc of B-sides and live recordings from QOTSA’S performance at the 2000 Reading Festival. While I think to some degree that something as near-perfect as Rated R shouldn’t be diluted, there is enough merit for these curios being included. The seven B-sides are highlighted by a couple of covers: a version of Romeo Void’s “Never Say Never” done without any keyboards or saxophones and a take on the Kinks’ “Who’ll Be the Next in Line” that shows the Queens could do just about anything they wanted at this point in time. As for the live tracks, they’re pretty much what one would expect, though it’s funny that Homme introduces the first four songs with “This is a song for you.” But yeah, these cuts sound tame. As I can tell you from firsthand experience, to truly hear this material live one needed to be upfront and within harm’s way of the PA. One needed to hear these songs ringing in your head (due to both volume and memorial resonance) for days afterward. This is an album that begs you to feel its full force, which hasn’t diminished at all this past decade.
Stephen Slaybaugh