The Palm Desert sunrise of Era Vulgaris‘s psilocybined “Turning the Screw” encapsulates the entire mood of the fifth Queens of the Stone Age disc. An oily garage groove bound to churning guitar melodicism and the swirled multi-track of king Queen Josh Homme’s narcoleptic croon, the song is as paradoxical as the album it leads off and the man who midwifed it — elastic yet concise, possessing a back-row goofiness but tinged with brooding complexity, robotically meticulous yet glistening with the loose sinew of organic growth. The free-flow kinetics of the rockers and the sleekly sexual-precision jams that interweave throughout Vulgaris create an album that alternately rocks harder than anything since the Nick Oliveri-fueled thrashers of Songs for the Deaf (2002) and lays back into the mellowed abandon typically reserved for the De La Luna porch sprawl of the Homme-led Desert Sessions grooves. Between the metronome swing of those two extremes you can hear the band rediscovering its footing as one of the strangest, funniest, and best acts of the decade.
The taut, sweaty sheen of “Sick, Sick, Sick,” the glistening stutter cool of “Misfit Love,” and the splintered wail of “3’s & 7’s” quickly electroshock away the dysthymia that nearly paralyzed the band during the scattershot dark forest of Lullabies to Paralyze (2005), and each reaches a level of pulverizing intensity I thought Homme had lost since resident wild child Oliveri had been Pete Best’ed after the Deaf tour. Further, the album’s up-tempo tracks are infused with a sense of experimental variety and polished eclecticism, managing to distinguish themselves from one another in a way that their Songs for the Deaf counterparts occasionally failed to do.
Vulgaris also finds Homme reaching deeper into his insular headspace of sun-drunk balladry and bass-thump Death Valley psychedelia: “Make It Wit Chu” is a sleep-drawled slow groove of Caucasoid funk and falsetto come-ons that becomes the slinky, knowing heartbeat of the album, and songs like “Suture Up Your Future” and “River in the Road” become surrealistic pillow fights between the low-register whisper of quietly swaggering bass lines and the hip-grip madness of roiling guitar noise and clattering percussion. Those elements all finally collude (or collide, depending on your point of view) in Vulgaris‘s twilight closer, “Run Pig Run,” a five-minute aural horror movie of pounding guitar brutality interspersed with epileptic breakdowns of catchy riffage and pop candy vocals that end the album with same kind of laserlike marination jamming it began with.
As the sun slowly bleeds into the album’s desert horizon, it becomes obvious that Vulgaris acts as both summation and premonition: Although it gathers the best elements from the Queens’ first four discs into a blistering gumbo of detuned guitar loops and stun-gun melodies, it also looks toward a new era of reenergized creativity and vision for the band. “I ain’t here to break it/ just see how far it will bend,” Homme croons in “Make It Wit Chu.” And with Era Vulgaris, he succeeds.