Queens of the Stone Age — “I Never Came”

Gotta flush all the rawk music out of my system before I attempt to write something lucid about the new Amon Tobin album, ISAM.

Josh Homme is a beast of a man, but that doesn’t stop him having the voice of an angel, and a knack for writing sweet, sweet songs that wind up getting coated in seventeen layers of grime and rust by the time they appear on record. Lullabies to Paralyze was a break-up album of sorts: Queens of the Stone Age had parted company with bassist/head-case Nick Oliveri, and so, unusually, the rest of the touring band reassembled to record the next album. We like to think that Josh Homme is Queens of the Stone Age (plus or minus old hand Chris Goss), but Lullabies to Paralyze is more of a team affair, in spite of it sounding like a more personal record.

“When you say it’s dead and gone,
I know you’re wrong.”

QOTSA’s previous album, Songs for the Deaf, was a brush with the mainstream, with Homme penning a battery of songs that would find a home on countless radio stations—impressive, given that it still sounds like the driving-through-the-desert intro of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, to my ears. In contrast, Lullabies to Paralyze was introspective to the extreme, with gothic fairytales and lullaby-like vocal melodies, interspersed with occasional chunks of chugging stoner rock.

Right in the middle of the album, there’s three minutes of bubblegum punk in the shape of “Little Sister”, but straight after comes the real centrepiece, “I Never Came”. Lyrically brutal (“Why you gotta shove it in my face /As if to put me in my place?” asks Homme) and musically raw, it sounds nasty and tragic all at once. The guitar has a pleading tone reminiscent of George Harrison’s solo in “Dear Prudence”, and the vocal harmonies (always divisive for QOTSA listeners) become incrementally guiltier as the song reaches its apogee. If you’re looking for precedent, you’d do a lot worse than listening to Dionne Warwick’s “You’re Gonna Need Me“: both songs contain stinging accusations tempered by the realisation that, in an argument, both parties are usually to blame. “I don’t care if you or me is wrong or right,” admits Homme halfway through, signalling the confusion running through the song. The music behind him empathises perfectly with his trauma: a distant clattering of guitar in the verses; punishingly EQ-ed bass in the chorus; and those relentlessly studious drums that never pounce for the easy payoff. I’m not sure Homme’s ever written something so bittersweet as this.

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