Reviewing the re-release of an album can be one of the more trickier reviews to do. Do you judge the album on the improvement in audio quality, a slickening of sound due to crafty remastering? Do you judge it on the original material, looking at the tracks in a retrospective way or through new eyes? Or do you rate it on the inclusion of any previously unreleased songs or demos that may add a different flavor to the record? Luckily, in the case of Queens of the Stone Age‘s re-release of their 1998 debut album Queens of the Stone Age, it was easy to explore it from all three of those angles.
The actual remastering of QOTSA’s self-titled was done with a very slight hand. Comparing the two albums side-by-side, you can hear a nice tonality in the re-release, a sharper, crisper quality that just wasn’t holding up in the 1998 version. However, part of QOTSA’s vital sound is the thickness of Josh Homme’s guitar, the fuzz and grain that permeates from each riff and solo. That is still present, it’s just a more precise distortion.
Of course, looking at the re-release from the perspective of songwriting and talent, there’s not much to criticize here. It always was, and continues to be, a stunning debut album. Though at the time of the original recording, the band consisted just of Homme on guitar and bass and former Kyuss drummer Alfredo Hernandez, it reeks of QOTSA’s signature sound. The opening track “Regular John” is still one of the best tracks the band has ever produced and the bassy, fuzzed out guitar and crazy hooks over Homme’s gentle voice is not only a fitting introduction to the album but to the genre that QOTSA has carved out for itself over the last 13 years.
Songs such as the rolling “Avon” and “How to Handle a Rope (A Lesson in the Lariat)” pound along with rumbling drums and with wall-to-wall riffs. “Walking on the Sidewalks” is all retro-tinged crunch, a stop-and-go drive through heavy sludge. Reverb, an eerie guitar tone, and Homme’s throaty drawl make up the “You Would Know”. A more happy-go-lucky spin on stoner rock is found in tracks like the hummable “If Only”, the meatier “Give the Mule What He Wants”, and the endearingly silly “I Was a Teenage Hand Model”.
“You Can’t Quit Me Baby” is a standout track among standout tracks. It builds up slowly with an almost sensual bass riff, then is sprinkled by clean guitar pickings and Homme’s assuring vocals. When he sings “I want you notice when I’m not around/Wherever you are”, there’s no doubt we’d notice with songs like this, especially with an ending that spirals into a dizzying feast of Homme’s intricate guitar work and burning strings.
“Mexicola” is a grinding, wailing trip down to the California bordertown, reminiscent of some of Homme’s Desert Sessions experiments. And of course it wouldn’t be a Queens of the Stone Age album without a purely instrumental track such as “Hispanic Impressions.”
There are also some worthy bonus tracks rounding out the album. “The Bronze” is a catchy kick-in-the-pants that would make an impact on any QOTSA fan. “These Aren’t the Droids Your Looking For”, from the long out of print 1998 QOTSA/Beaver split EP, starts off like it’s the end of a song before launching into a driving, almost theme music-esque instrumental journey. “Spiders and Vinegaroons” is another instrumental track with a psychedelic take. The clapping hands and pounding drums propel the space jam riffs and sitar-like sound to create a heady, intoxicating sidestep. All three of the bonus tracks slink in perfectly with the rest of the album, adding to the overall feel instead of subtracting from it.
As we questioned with QOTSA’s rerelease of Rated R last year, was doing the same to their self-titled necessary? Perhaps not. But with the band currently working on new material and about to embark on a tour in support of this album, I don’t see any fans complaining. If anything, it reminds people where it all began, which in this case, was with a solid gold debut.