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Dune Prophecy 

Wednesday, Aug 28 2002
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QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE | Songs for the Deaf (Interscope)

Right now, in a far better, far more bad-ass parallel world somewhere across the galaxy, a mustachioed classic-rock DJ closely resembling Jim Ladd is spinning Songs for the Deaf, and totally getting off on it. The kids there are being sandblasted with thee most fully righteous arena rock of their wildest dreams, and they're not being talked down to in the bargain. They're ecstatic.

Pure ecstasy is strewn all over Queens of the Stone Age's new disc, which plays out like a demonstration record of a new and viable and outrageously alternative heavy rock, where the bruising metallics come weighted in equal proportion with unchained melody, thrilling dynamics and delirious audio faux de roll. Set up with jokey bits of crap-radio DJ blather, Songs for the Deaf swiftly jumps up to state its case with the opener, "Millionaire," a neat-neat-neat riff-rock blender (UFO? Status Quo?) whose piled-higher-and-deeper chaos palette and in-the-red distorto aesthetic leaps right into your face and hangs there for the duration of the platter.

Emphasizing songcraft and their own cheesy love of '60s­'90s pop droppings, chief Queens Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri seem like a shrewd coupla dudes out to give the headbangers a little taste of what they want and a tremendous load of what they oughtta get into. The hard-rock-aligned Queens aren't a metal band per se, they're a melodic hard-rock collective with an ingeniously orchestrated wall of noise and, yes, life-affirming joys. Deaf's songs are lavish troves of pop-rubbish reference points, like "No One Knows," where Homme's vocal, a strutty cadence and a rather exalted chorus rain from the sky like long-lost thunder from the Move. On "First It Giveth #1," Queens are your Spanish-inflected Beach Boys; "Do It Again" brings the Gary Glitter ("Hey!")­type "just we boys" stomp; savor and relish "God"'s "Everybody must get stoned" stumble and smells-like "Spirit in the Sky" guitar. You could snigger when "Another Love Song"'s Euro bass roots and minor-key mode ream out "Paint It Black" even as the drums tip their hat to the Prunes' "Too Much To Dream."

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Recombinant rock yes, obviousness never: This is an inspired band, bursting with ideas, and these Deaf tunes are textbook illustrations of how to keep a listener's attention. The blaring overdrive of "First It Giveth" resets and freshens its theme with exhilarating key modulations; "Song for the Dead" stutters out all "Foxy Lady"­like (Josh on lewd guitar, drummer Dave Grohl on Mitch Mitchell­esque off-time jazzy-rock swing), then they double the tempo; but it stops; then it returns, full-blast, head-swimmingly fast, like a rocky punky Neu! The moods shift; the monumental "Song for the Deaf"'s Middle Eastern décors loom balefully as we gallop 'cross the dunes toward the grand finale, "Mosquito Song," an acoustic saga that sweetly sings, "Mosquitoes come to suck your blood," and harmonium, violin and piano join hands, and . . . well, it's exquisite but . . . strange: Why is this happening? you ask yourself, when the Morricone horns and martial snares march all us mere rock fans into battle, or toward the setting sun, or . . . well, it's back to the campfire to pass the pipe and chew on the events of the day.

Exactly what did happen that day? Queens' cryptic lyrics won't tell, but their extrovert music will: a tall tale about a madly inspired, insanely unfettered and supremely confident young band buzzing on their creative powers, their zenith nowhere in sight. Songs for the Deaf is that rare and so, so alive thing that can make you love rock music again.

Reach the writer at jpayne@bluefat.com

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