From the moment 2000's Rated R was released, and "Feel Good Hit Of The Summer" infected public consciousness with its psychotic "nicotine, valium, Vicodin, marijuana, Ecstasy, and alcohol" chant, Queens Of The Stone Age became more than just another stoner-rock band. Thanks to the Pied Piper-style proselytizing of onetime co-frontmen Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri, Queens emerged as virtual spokesmen for a new subculture of dropouts and dissidents inspired by hedonism and sustained by licentiousness.
Fast-forward seven years, and the instant fame that came with the 2002 Dave Grohl collaboration Songs For The Deaf has faded, bad-boy Oliveri is gone, (his forced exit was chronicled in 2005's Lullabies To Paralyze), and life is different for sole proprietor Josh Homme, now a married man with a 1-year-old. More than anything else, Era Vulgaris reads like a reckoning with the changes.
Slower, moodier, and groggier than anything the group has done before, the album is reflective, questioning, self-deprecating, and critical. Everywhere the concept of consequences permeates the old-school amoralizing. "I'm a mess, I guess," Homme sings on the wonderfully Led Zeppelin-esque "Turnin On The Screw." "There is no safe place," he repeats on the pummeling "Run, Pig, Run." Ostensibly, it's a threat. But sung in chilling falsetto, it feels like an anti-self-affirmation.
Recorded with exactly zero input from Interscope Records, Era sounds like an effort to pull away from commercial radio and actually cultivate a smaller, indie-er fan base. At times, the approach backfires as a particularly curdled riff turns self-indulgent—witness the forced, mechanical-sounding "Battery Acid." And a few songs suffer from too many good ideas sandwiched into a conventional four-minute format. But where the band relaxes and settles into its dark groove, as on the haunting, Motown-ish "Make It Wit Chu," Era Vulgaris gets it just right.