Era Vulgaris (2007) ****
Predictably consistent yet taking a markedly different approach on each release, once again QOTSA solidify their rep as one of the best (the best?) hard rock bands of the Dubya administration. If the gimmick on Lullabies was bloozy and gothic, the shift on Vulgaris is to the tighter and poppier: at little over 47 minutes (hey, that's practically an EP in modern terms) and a mere eleven songs, this is the first QOTSA release that does not overstay its welcome. It helps immensely that it's also the most sonically varied, with a wider swing of tempos and textures than previous entries in Josh Homme's rockalogue. That said, it's not quite their most accessible, as there aren't any truly knockout singles like "Little Sister" or "Feel Good Hit of the Summer"; it's more of an even ride, without so many of the low valleys that marred the band's more over-long releases. The poppiness can actually be initially off-putting: megabyte to digital, what the heck is this opening track, "Turning on the Screw," freakin' Weezer?! And then there's "Make It Wit Chu," the lead single, which is a poppy, mid-tempo piano-bouncy smooch note - what is this, a metallized Ben Folds Five?! Relax -- QOTSA offer much more sophisticated hard rock arrangements than the former, even if Homme truly lacks the talent for pop melodicism of either. The Foo Fighters-ish "3 & 7" (opening riff seems to borrow a bit familiarly from Nirvana, don't it?) is more in line with Homme's alley, and is a much pleasanter new pop direction for the band to navigate. "Suture Up Your Future," demonstrates that after all these years he's finally gotten to grips with a slow psychedelic one, and then he turns around and closes the album with one of their most relentlessly pounding and heaviest tracks ever, the pummelling "Run Pig Run". "Into the Hollow," Grimm-ly sounds like an outtake from the previous album, and if "Sick Sick Sick," does indeed feature the Strokes' Julian Casablancas on vocal duties, who cares when the T. Rex-gone-psychorobot riff is so sick sick sick? Move along, nothing more to analyze here, just one more excellent QOTSA album with their impeccable formula of killer riffs and duckwater-tight, almost proggy arrangements.