Queens of the Stone Age/At the Drive-In/…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead

2000 BROUGHT an alternative to the fetid nu metal of Bizkit, Korn and company: the birth of a credible “hard rock” that reached back to the Detroit blitzkrieg of Iggy and the MC5 but stemmed more directly from the American hardcore punk of the ’80s and the sub-Sabs stoner metal that survived the demise of grunge.

The three bands that went down the best in Britain had certain things in common: they weren’t testosterone-blasted jocks, they were possessed of a certain wit, and they were genuinely exciting live acts. Yet their three albums were all mild disappointments.

The Queens’ debauched chug-metal classic ‘Feel Good Hit of the Summer’ was a misleading aperitif to the so-so meal that was Rated R. After that thrilling first track, ‘Leg of Lamb’ sounded like indifferent Elastica, ‘Better Living Through Chemistry’ could have been a beefier Sebadoh, and ‘Auto Pilot’ was just bland nothing-rock. A melange of old Jane’s Addiction hooks and Motor City combustibility, Rated R lacked distinctive sound and vocal character. Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri make a cool double act but the Queens need to evolve beyond the Stoned Age.

At the Drive-In seemed to draw MC5 comparisons purely on the strength of their Tex-Mex-Fro hairstyles: such is the facile reductiveness of the modern music press. Certainly Relationship of Command didn’t sound anything like the 5 in either their up-against-the-wall Grande Ballroom mode or their protopunk teenage-kicks Back in the USA guise (or, come to that, their sludge-rock High Time phase).

The opening ‘Arcarsenal’ immediately suggested primal Birthday Party frenzy wedded to the melodic bent of ’80s hardcore heroes like Husker Du, and that flavour lasted for most of RelationshipKick Out the Jams it wasn’t, although the band’s sheer fury and political nous were almost as gripping as that of Rob Tyner and chums. Downside? The throttled yowl of singer Cedric Bixler got monotonous after four songs. And, yes, it all made more sense live.

The fact that …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead were even more uncompromising onstage than At The Drive-In arguably made their Madonna even more of a letdown than Relationship of Command. Again it was supercharged Texan indie rock: neo-hardcore with a melodic undertow. But again it was less than met the eye at live performances.

© The Rev. Al Friston, December 2000

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