Totally my pleasure, wg — I only hope my responses to a few commenters deal with the questions/issues raised by everyone else, in some capacity.
Look, I kinda feel like the goalposts are being moved (by me and you guys) with every new exchange, so I’m gonna address your points one by one, as concisely as possible (for me) and then devote my attention to the growing pile of new work on my desk. I’ll check in again, but if I don’t reply at length (or at all), rest assured it’s not because I’m not interested in hearing from you guys. This has been a fun convo and it has added countless insights to the review posted above.
are you insinuating that Josh Homme intentionally brought these guys back to recreate something? To get back some kind of mojo from 2002? To fool the fans?
“Re-create” is a pejorative term, and I wouldn’t presume to know exactly what he hoped to get from those collabs. By no means do I feel like he was trying to find old mojo and I DEFINITELY don’t think he was trying fool his fans — I really hope that didn’t come across in anything I said.
1) Homme is actually friends with, and has worked with many of these “guests” before. He’s stated in interviews that when friends swing by his studio for whatever reason, they’re welcome to drop a vocal, a handclap, a guitar lick, a drum break etc. on a track. He obviously bonds with people musically. Why not put that stuff on the album?
Totally agree, especially if the best take is the one with Jack Black doing handclaps or whatever. That said — and this is on me, not him — when I see (for example) Julian Casablancas’s name in the liner notes, but I can’t hear him in the song, it takes me out of the moment to some extent: because I’m listening for Julian Casablancas, and wondering where he is, and if/when he’s going to appear, and I’m not fully appreciating the song. Again, that’s totally on me — and to be clear, I don’t listen to QOTSA to hear Julian Casablancas! I don’t feel, like, ripped off or anything. I’m just a little disconnected from the whole of the song because I’m examining it for specific personnel-based details that aren’t (necessarily) going to reveal themselves.
2) Elton John called Josh up and asked to be on the album. Why pass that up? I can hear him pretty clearly on piano and backing vocals on Fairweather Friends, can’t you?
The Elton John thing (as it pertains to my review) is getting blown out of proportion — I don’t care about Elton John. Frankly, I kinda think Elton John is a total interloper. He’s spent the last decade and a half glomming onto everyone from Eminem to Ryan Adams to Lady Gaga. In 2006 he told Rolling Stone he was going to do a hip-hop album, saying, “I want to work with Pharrell, Timbaland, Snoop, Kanye, Eminem and just see what happens.” It doesn’t surprise me at all that Elton John called up Josh Homme and asked to be on the record. However, I think his contribution is negligible and, yeah, a little distracting. It grosses me out a little bit. You guys like it? We’ll have to agree to disagree.
3) Joey Castillo got booted from the band. We don’t know why, but they needed a new drummer to fill in. Who better to call than Dave Grohl?
Literally NO ONE. And Grohl does a great job on the album! He’s a fucking incredible drummer! The best moments on the album — as I mention in my review — feature Dave Grohl on drums. If I downplayed Grohl’s contributions, I apologize. If anything, I would have liked to hear him on all 10 tracks.
4) Josh said in an interview that he and Nick are still buddies and Nick came by the studio to drop off or pick up some records (I forget which) and Josh asked him to sing into the mic. No big deal.
Right, this is like the Julian Casablancas thing I mentioned above, but it’s a bit more frustrating. Josh Homme is free to employ any musicians he sees fit, and in any capacity he sees fit. But the combination of Homme and Oliveri (and Lanegan) has resulted in QOTSA’s best-ever music (IMO). So when I see Oliveri and Lanegan’s names in the liner notes, I get really excited! And when they’re buried in the sing-along mix, I get frustrated. It takes me out of the moment. It makes me think about how much more I like Homme’s voice when it plays against the voices of those guys. I’ve been listening to Mark Lanegan since the Screaming Trees’ record Uncle Anesthesia. I’ve listened to every single project he’s ever done. Dude will work with anyone. Mad Season? Sure. Isobel Campbell? Sign him up. Greg Dulli? Perfect. UNKLE? Just tell him the time and place and he’ll be there. But Lanegan is NEVER BETTER than when he’s singing over Josh Homme’s guitars. Have you heard the Homme-Lanegan theme song for the new Bourdain show? I wrote about it; it’s great. I like it as much if not more than anything on the new QOTSA record, frankly, for what it is. As I wrote in that space, back in April, before hearing a note of the new QOTSA record: “[O]f all Homme’s many collaborators, I don’t think any does more to raise the material than Lanegan (and vice-versa: Lanegan’s vocals rarely hit harder than they do in QOTSA’s songs).” If I’d never known Oliveri or Lanegan was going to be on the new QOTSA record, I would not have been disappointed by their relative absence. But man, this is a band with history! You can’t just remove everything from historical context! I don’t think Homme’s voice carries an album from start to finish as well as the Homme-Lanegan-Oliveri triad does. At the end of the day, that’s part of why I think Era Vulgaris and …Like Clockwork are really-good-but-not-great records: because Homme’s voice wears on me over an extended period, and this has grown more egregious as he’s gotten older (and as I’ve gotten older). This, coupled with the fact that Oliveri and Lanegan were there to contribute in some capacity, affects my feelings about the record.
Josh Homme never promised us anything. Never said, “hey fans, we’re gettin’ the old crew back together!” or anything like that.
Nah, but he did say during the recording process, “The robots are back!” And including Oliveri, Lanegan, and Grohl is ALMOST implicitly saying something to that effect. Again, this is a band with a lot of history — it’s not fair to expect any fan to pretend this record exists outside of historical context, and it’s crazy to expect a critic to do that when part of a critic’s job is to provide context!
I think your real gripe, as you mentioned, is with the marketing. You don’t think Matador is gonna scream and shout about all the collaborations and say “Nick and Grohl are back!” etc.
FWIW I never even saw a press release from Matador about this record — they’re a really classy label with a great PR dept and they’re not apt to trade on empty sensationalism. My issue with the marketing pertained only to the rollout of songs. We heard six of 10 Clockwork tracks totally out of context before the first leak even emerged. And those six songs included AT LEAST the three best songs (“My God,” “If I Had A Tail,” “Missing”). By the time I got my hands on the LP, there wasn’t much left to knock me out. I think that was a mistake.
Despite keeping his vocals front and center, I think this album shows a great creative and stylistic leap forward. You have to admit that at least.
I don’t think it’s a step up, but I do agree that it’s a step forward. I think your analysis is pretty spot-on. Sincerely appreciate you sharing it.
I think we more or less agree, wg, except that you (fairly) take exception with the critical substance of my review. You’re kind of emphasizing my points, though:
Ask yourself this. . . .If you had no idea who recorded (or apparently recorded) on this album, would your opinion of it still be the same?
No! If I’d never been told that Nick Oliveri and Mark Lanegan were returning to the fold, I would not have expected substantive contributions from Nick Oliveri and Mark Lanegan, whose past contributions were directly related to my love of past QOTSA records. I was kinda bummed, though, knowing that they did return to the fold, only to be buried into utter invisibility. My general assessment of the album — “good not great” — would likely be the same, though, yes. My review, however, might have said something to the extent of, “Bring back Oliveri and Lanegan!”
QOTSA in 2013 is not QOTSA from 2002.
Exactly! So why reunite the beloved QOTSA 2002 lineup only to present a product that has absolutely nothing to do with QOTSA 2002?
Honestly, contributors aside, I don’t think this is a great record. I think QOTSA has made three, maybe four, great records (Lullabies may fall a notch short of “great”), and two really good records. This is IMO a really good record. No shame in making a really good record! But we’re talking about a dude who’s capable of greatness. That said, there are plenty of people in this thread who DO think it’s a great record, and frankly, this makes me really happy for Josh Homme and Matador — two entities for which I have A LOT of love.
I love the first QOTSA album; it’d be at No. 3 on my own list after SFTD and R, and on any given day I’m more apt to listen to that record than any other in the band’s discography. And I can confirm — via Google cheating — that you’ve got the configuration exactly right. I should’ve mentioned all that, agreed, just as I should’ve mentioned the Desert Sessions, as Cecil points out above. The debut LP, though, is truly anomalous, to the extent that I would’ve needed another hundred or so words just to properly contextualize it (insofar as it was a transition out of Kyuss, etc.), and this thing was running long anyway. On some level it presents an interesting parallel to Clockwork, in that both are probably closer to Homme solo albums than anything else he’s ever done, but Clockwork is the most guest-bloated disc in his catalog while s/t is the leanest. That would’ve been another angle to consider! Ah well. Maybe another critic will explore it.
Au contraire: This only makes the need for such a thing that much greater. ;-)
Kevin, thank YOU for calling it to my attention so quickly — good eye, and great call. Genuinely appreciated.
Wow what are the fucking chances Spin publishes their list of the 100 Greatest Drummers Of Alternative Music today?! You should read the whole list because it’s got a lot of great names on there but if you’re pressed for time you can start at the top and work backward.
Brandon, I don’t have a ranking system or even a list that I meticulously update, but by and large, when I think of my favorite rock drummers, rolling them out in (basically) chronological order, it goes: Moon, Mitch Mitchell, Bonham, Peart, Dave Lombardo, Brendan Canty (Fugazi), Sean Reinert (Death, Cynic), Grohl, Jimmy Chamberlain, Jef Whitehead (who plays in lots of band but specifically his playing on the last three or so Leviathan records), Erik Wunder (Cobalt). That’s off the top of my head, and I’m obviously missing plenty, but those are the ones I’ve sort of filed away as my Platonic ideals.
Now, I want to point out that by and large I find the Dave Grohl brand and persona to be irritating verging on repulsive. As a songwriter and frontman, he’s bland to the point of being invisible. Here’s what makes the case for Grohl, the drummer, though: There’s lots of actual before-and-after evidence to support the notion that he both elevates and transforms the musicians and songs he’s working with. Nirvana before Grohl was a fairly standard grunge act with obvious melodic potential; Nirvana with Grohl released two of the best albums of the last 30 years, and I’d argue Nevermind belongs in the conversation with anything in the history of rock music. QOTSA without Grohl has released some excellent and compelling music, but SFTD is the pinnacle of their career and a legit classic. Alternately, Foo Fighters absolutely fell off a cliff after The Colour And The Shape, which was the last FF albums on which Grohl was behind the kit. None of this is coincidental, and each of the aforementioned Grohl-assisted records features drum work that absolutely reaches frontman-level presence, IMO.
My opinion of Era Vulgaris is higher than yours, and even so I’d essentially agree that …Like Clockwork is better than Era Vulgaris, but to me those are without question the two worst albums in QOTSA’s catalog (and they’re still better than most band’s best albums!). As far as our internal categorization goes: it’s important to remember that a Premature Evaluation really is just that; I have no doubt that my feelings on the record will evolve over time. But irrespective of your own ability to put aside such factors, the buildup to this album has been anything but subtle, and the early response (the “premature” response, if you will) is not one that’s been trained to expect subtlety. Why employ Sir Fucking Elton John if the BEST possible reaction is going to be, “Who cares if Elton John’s name is on the liner notes”? Why reunite the team behind SFTD only to have them sing pointless backing vocals on 1-2 tracks? Honestly, it’s a really good record; and I was expecting more.
Honestly I didn’t even remember that happening until you mentioned it. But it’s kinda apples and oranges — that was 2003! And I’m not really outraged, I’m just cringing a little bit. It seems like such crass opportunism with no thought toward fan service, and it diminishes the genuine excitement they were generating, replacing it with cynicism. I’m still eager to hear the album, though.
Ah, I was under the impression it was the whole song. My fault, then — consider my criticism of the song to be invalid. Still think premiering it on CSI is a really weird and bad idea, even more so now that they premiered the thing in such a high-profile space and didn’t actually include the best part (or the majority) of the song. I think that’s kind of more insulting actually (not really blaming the band here, more their marketing director or whomever convinced them it was a good idea to do it).
I wasn’t suggesting ASG were trend-hopping, just that Blood Drive is poised to capitalize on the moment. And right, for whatever reason, more and more “clean-singing” metal bands have been garnering mainstream media attention and metal-scene acceptance. It’s a positive development, IMO, irrespective of how you define it.
I think the band might have killed each other (or Partridge) before they could complete it. The impression I get is that the two parties didn’t like each other at all, and the music didn’t sound great either.
Fortunately that word appears in the fourth sentence, preceded by the words, “As everyone on [the] internet seems eager to point out … “
Gah! My mistake. Should be fixed now. Thanks for the head up!
You know, both those guys have truly amazing bodies of work (far greater than Warhol’s, no question) but I don’t think they created iconic images so much as established really recognizable aesthetics. Those Warhol covers aren’t just great, they’re two of the most enduring images in rock history — and they happen to grace two of the best records ever made. And they were made by a hugely influential artist working in a relatively lowbrow medium. I don’t mean to compare the careers of Warhol and Storm — obviously two totally different animals — I was just saying their individual contributions to sleeve art are massive, and arguably more prominent than the individual contributions of any other artist(s).
Wow, thanks guys! Made my day.
This may seem like a weak defense considering the amount of space I dedicated to discussing Wolfgang in my review of Bankrupt!, but it was never my intention to compare the respective quality of (or “rank”) the two albums. I was only trying to frame Bankrupt! within the broader context of Phoenix’s catalog and trace the arc of their career to date. I think it’s important especially in this case because Wolfgang was such a breakthrough for the band, and their decision-making process going into this album was likely informed by the success of the last album. I also think it’s interesting to note the critical consensus last time around (boundless enthusiasm from all quarters) and to try to predict how the new album will be received in comparison. But if it means anything, I don’t personally know yet which of the two is “better” than the other, in my opinion. I love them both, and my life is richer with both of them in it.
Yeah, I totally agree; if the rest of the album is as good as this track, it will be better than You’re Nothing for sure. That said, if every song on You’re Nothing were as good as “Coalition,” it would be the album of the year, so…
Actually, now that it’s in my head, I remember it was Noel who sang, “It’s good to be back,” but the point stands.
I think the “Live To Tell” EP is as good a place as any; it’s pretty essential IMO. The first thing I heard of his was a split he did with Obscure Lupine Quietus, which is really good, and which got me super-excited about A Pregnant Light having never before even heard the name. The St. Emaciation tape is excellent, too. You can’t go wrong, IMO, but if I were telling you to buy one thing and one thing only (with the hope that you’d dig deeper from there), it’d be “Live To Tell,” because it covers so much ground in only four songs.
Saw him twice, actually! Once headlining Irving; once opening for Juliana Hatfield (?) at Roseland. (I’m sure you’ve seen concert footage so you don’t need me to tell you how he was.)