I love Queens of the Stone Age, and for all its quirks, I have always enjoyed their debut album. Released shortly after the disbandment of stoner-rock kingpins Kyuss, this was a transitional record in every sense, hence the numerous imperfections. Kyuss riffs remain in all their glory, but the QOTSA flair wasn’t to arrive for another couple of years, on Rated R. Still, there’s a certain charm to Queens of the Stone Age that has since disappeared. The album is rough around the edges, no doubt, but the instrumentation itself is absolutely assured and, quite frankly, ridiculously fucking groovy. Opening tracks “Regular John” and “Avon” opt for a robotic powerchord approach, heavily inspired by Krautrock outfits such as Neu! and Can, whereas “Mexicola” and “Walkin’ on the Sidewalks” take powerful strides in the vein of metal pioneers Black Sabbath. When Queens of the Stone Age is good, it’s truly rocking.
Compared to recent QOTSA releases, their debut is notably raw and far more natural. Josh Homme was still finding his voice, and his lack of confidence is only more obvious due to the subdued mixing of the vocals across the album. Whilst he’s always been a superb guitarist, it clearly took him some time to feel comfortable with his vocal performances, and we’ve seen an influx of slower, steadier ballads in recent albums as a result. However, despite the songwriting on Villains being a tad stronger, it definitely doesn’t have the same energy as this (Mark Ronson tends to have that effect). As far as I’m concerned, QOTSA were at their best when Nick Oliveri entered the fray, adding the extra notch of vitality that was required to propel them as one of the World’s greatest rock bands. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this month, QOTSA’s debut album serves as an insightful glimpse into their career as princesses, before being made queens. I’ve always got time for good ol’ sleazy rock’n’roll.7 10
Favourite tracks // Mexicola
Queens of the Stone Age’s self-titled debut is a sleazy, groovy record; a real kick to listen to. It’s strange listening to a debut album after you’ve heard the rest of the discography. Listening to it in isolation is difficult. You hear what the group will become, look for the origins of sounds in the roots of the music. There’s a formative energy to it all; the buzz of explosive combinations still working each other out. That’s certainly the case here. The guitars groan, the percussion and bass are positively guttural, while Homme’s vocals are charmingly hesitant compared to his more recent efforts. It’s a raw, winning combination. When the pieces get to grinding it’s a grand ol’ head noddin’ time.
The record lacks the edge of its successors, but the fluidity allows for a character all of its own. Hard stoner rock or stoned hard rock… I’m not sure which. But when “Mexicola” gets rolling, or “Walkin on the Sidewalks” is in the throes of its minutes-long outro, you wouldn’t have it any other way. The band is tight and the sound is good. As a debut it ticks most of the boxes in that sense. If Queens was released today I’d be excited about where the group could go, if not infatuated with where they were. The suave Queens fury we all know and love is here — it’s just a bit dopey. Songs for the Deaf would beat this record up and steal its bike, let’s put it that way.7 10
Favourite tracks // Walkin on the Sidewalks
I see Queens of the Stone Age’s debut as the first in a three act play. Teething problems of the transition from the bone-crunching stoner rock of Kyuss to the lighter tone and flexibility of Queens can be felt throughout the first album. By Rated R, a noticeable confidence boost flexes Homme’s (and Oliveri’s) creativity in more daring directions. Songs for the Deaf, comfortably their best album to date, found the perfect balance.
Saying self-titled is in the shadow of its successors feels like an odd criticism, but it does sometimes feel like a game of pointing out similarities and differences with what Queens ended up becoming. For me, it means I can’t see their first album as anything more than a really fun, raw, but ultimately safe album that doesn’t make the most of its qualities.
Every track is vibrant, punchy, and satisfyingly atypical, but the restraint feels almost tragically evident. Homme’s vocals are mixed quietly for the most part, and he doesn’t sing with the authority he would come to show off in “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”. Its absence as a driving force occasionally robs tracks of the identity they need to hit the spot.
I love Queens of the Stone Age, and in a lot of ways I love this album. But stood in a row with its successors — even the self-fulfilling disappointment of Villains — I can’t help but see it as inferior for the lack of arrogant boundary warping, or the self-assured, unrepentant coolness with which every other album has been delivered.7 10
Favourite tracks // If Only
How to Handle a Rope