By Sean Palmerston
Queens Of The Stone Age is a band some Hellbound readers may be surprised to see covered on this website. That’s pretty understandable, as the band has risen gradually over the past dozen years or so to a point where their popularity is bigger than was ever expected: they get major media coverage in almost every big newspaper/magazine/website on the planet and assuredly many of their now massive fan base would have no idea who Kyuss were nor that guitarist Joshua Homme honed his chops within the seminal California desert rock band. These are the fans that know the band for their Songs For The Deaf and and Era Vulgaris albums.
Long before QOTSA became a commercial radio band and started headlining theatres and festivals on an international basis they were a fledgling trio that, with their 1998 self-titled debut, created one of the best introductory albums of the 90s. There was already a huge buzz on the band in advance of the album’s release – their North American debut at the Man’s Ruin showcase at SXSW 1998, something I had the pleasure of being in attendance for, set the bar high for their upcoming debut recorded one month afterwards. And when the album finally dropped later that year, somewhat surprisingly on Stone Gossard’s Loosegroove label, it was well worth the wait.
The thing about the first QOTSA album was its loose unpredictability. While many expected Homme to come out with an album that would somewhat follow what Kyuss had did with their 1995 swansong …And The Circus Left Town, his new band (which also featured final Kyuss drummer Alfredo Hernandez along with original band bassist Nick Oliveri) was much more straightforward, much more immediate and way less hypnotic than what Kyss was best known for. The band came blazing out of the gate with an album chock full of some of the wildest riffs Homme has ever created. Many of the main song riffs are still incredible head fucks to this day – just listen to what he pulls off in tracks like the side-winding “Avon” and the just plain weird yet surprisingly catchy “You Would Know”. These aren’t your everyday by-the-numbers heavy rock tracks and this is not a band playing things safe for their first album. Not by a long shot.
On a personal level, this album was a big hit with my friends and I, enough so that a vanful of ten of us went to see their sold out Toronto show at Lee’s Palace, followed by half of us going to see them again the next night at London’s Call The Office and a few of us even making the three hour drive to Windsor the following evening to see them play The Loop alongside a Pink Floyd cover band! Indeed, for most of 1999 and 2000 this album was in high rotation and that early tour, which saw Earthlings guitarist Dave Catchling playing steel guitar and second six-string as touring fourth member, is still the absolute best I have ever seen QOTSA perform. I liked the CD enough that I went out of my way to pick up a copy of the Man’s Ruin limited LP pressing of the album, which I have been told now sells for more than $500 on eBay. As amazing as I think the album is, it’s not worth that kind of money. I personally don’t feel any vinyl album released after 1995 is.
However, if you missed the boat on this album the first time it was made available on vinyl then I am happy to report your waiting days are over. Josh Homme has reissued the first QOTSA album as a gatefold double vinyl set on his Rekords Rekords imprint, which is currently distributed in North America through Domino Records. I don’t know if this is a limited edition pressing or if there are any special versions of it, the copy reviewed here is on black vinyl in what looks to be a 160 or 180 gram vinyl pressing. It is in a nice gatefold package, the two records each have dust cover sleeves with lyrics and album information printed on them and, as an added bonus, a digital download sheet for the album was included in the the pocket containing the first record. You have the choice of downloading the album as WAV files or as hi-res MP3s if you so desire.
There are three reasons that I think really make this vinyl reissue worth the money. Number one, the vinyl pressing is great. The sound on this new reissue is much better than the original Mans Ruin 12” that I picked up back in 1999. I think stretching out the songs over two albums has definitely helped the fidelity. I am by no means an expert, but to my ears this new version does sound better.
The second reason is the bonus tracks. They have included the two songs that were released as a split CD with Dutch stoners Beaver, plus an additional song that was on a limited edition Kyuss/QOTSA split 7” single. I’m not jazzed about where the bonus tracks were placed – the first new/old song “The Bronze” was thrown in as second track on side B, totally ruining the familiarity for those of us that have heard the album hundreds and hundreds of times over the years, but it is nice to have the bonus tracks added.
The third and final thing I like about it is the reinstatement of the original album cover. The 1998 Mans Ruin LP (and all of the subsequent German semi-official releases of it circa 2005/06) has a Frank Kozik cover that comes across like a space vixen from a Russ Meyer movie. Not bad, but not the original album cover. Thankfully that has been reinstated here to its original cover.
As a long awaited reissue, the new 2011 version of this album is about as good as it gets. I personally wouldn’t have made the decision to have a bonus track put so early on in the album, as previously mentioned, but it certainly doesn’t impede the impact the album still has some thirteen years later. My original rating for this album was a nine back in 1998 and that is what I am going to give this reissue too. It’s an album that definitely has stood the test of time and is still my favourite QOTSA release, plus it should be pretty affordable through your local cool indie store, as well as through your favourite online retailers. You should have no problem finding this for under $25 in both Canada and the USA.
(Rekords Rekords / Domino)