Lullabies to Paralyze (2005) ***1/2
Nick Oliveri is gone due to drug problems/general fucked-upness, and he's missed, not just his barracuda bass throbbing but his manic intensity, goofball humor, and general wild-ass rock'n'roll presence. Also seriously missed is Dave Grohl, with the drums noticeably thinner and less beefy without the FF mainman on skins. That said, QOTSA have always been Josh Homme's baby, and the transition of QOTSA into the Josh Homme Experience isn't that jarring: despite what some disgruntled fans have to gripe, this is not a major step down for the band. Oh, it's noticably weaker than the previous couple of albums, with a few too many draggy slow crunchers that hang around far too long on the second half, but the first half is more or less killer (the less consisting of the opening "This Lullaby," sung gruffly by Mark Lanegan). Should I mention that just as on Songs for the Deaf, there is a concept: Grimm's fairy tales, which you can feel free to ignore, because the concept basically consists of Homme singing half the songs about witches and wolves, with the rest being concerning the perennial hard-rock subject matter of good'ol sex. The tone is somewhat raunchier, and not just the lyrical subject matter - the guitar tone and overall feel is considerably bluesier (and bloozier), more warmly (and pleasingly) '70s than Deaf's firmly '00s masters-of-technology bludgeoning sheen. "Burn the Witch," is practically a John Lee Hooker stomp on steroids, and for the first time Homme unleashes a slow number that's not only bearable but one of the album's highlights, the blues-glammy "I Never Came." The bonafide hit single, "Little Sister," seems born to blast out of muscle-car speakers down the strip cruising the Wal-Mart parking lot for high school chicks, while "In My Head," begs to be the followup A-side as the album's most relentlessly propulsive and simultaneously poppiest number. But as I said, the band starts to lose its grip on good material around the midway, with a couple too many 7-minute numbers, which while displaying a welcome addiction to psychedelia ("Someone's in the Wolf," "Blood is Love,") unwelcomely display a bog-standard addiction to banal hard rock lyricism ("Skin on Skin") - namely, a previously undisclosed misogynistic streak. Disappointing in a band that, while never blew me away with their goofball lyrics, at least kept the subject matter non-stereotypically hard rock-ish, and didn't resort to building a chorus around, "I wanna lick it, lick it, lick it too much!"