It’s no secret that rock music has taken a bit of a backseat in pop culture as we’ve waded into the new millennium, but that’s never stopped Josh Homme from riding that motorcycle into the sunset. As the leader of Queens of the Stone Age, Homme is one of the last genuine heavy-hitters to make major waves in the mainstream, finding commercial success without compromising the core values of his music. While his various projects are often described as “stoner rock,” the magic of Homme’s work with Queens of the Stone Age lies in taking the textural richness of metal’s sludgier cousin and sharpening it to a knife’s edge–QOTSA is undeniably brutal music that’s still as tightly wound as pop radio. His machismo flexing has always masked a surprisingly delicate ear for songwriting, and between his soaring falsetto and relentlessly chugging power chords, Homme has done a lot to carry rock forward.
Though in truth there isn’t a bad Queens of the Stone Age album, we’ve all got our power rankings to abide by. Without further ado, enjoy our breakdown of the QOTSA discography from best to worst.
Era Vulgaris bears the contradictory distinction of being Queens of the Stone Age’s most experimental, anything-goes album, as well as unfortunately their most pat. Though brimming with surprising new additions to the QOTSA sound, like the hip-hop backbeats powering “Turnin’ on the Screw,” the dissonant chords thrashing through “Sick, Sick, Sick,” or the sultry R&B rhythms of “Make It Wit Chu,” the remainder of the album essentially repeats what we’ve heard from Homme and company before, but to lesser success. Quirky shredders like “I’m Designer” and “3’s & 7’s” make for novel hard rock, but on the whole, Era Vulgaris just doesn’t make enough of a commitment to any of its myriad impulses.
Album Highlight: “Make It Wit Chu”
While …Like Clockwork may not be the heaviest entry in the QOTSA anthology, it embodies a quality of Josh Homme’s songwriting more fully than any other record he’s made: his smoldering inner crooner. Following a surgery that almost killed him and then four months forced to lie in bed, …Like Clockwork is as bleary and disillusioned as one might expect from a rocker whose whole M.O. up to that point was built on unstoppable strength. Dreamy ballads like “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” and “Kalopsia” sit next to bulldozers like “If I Had a Tail” that feel like they’re about to fall apart, leaving us with an album that trades in the band’s usual one-and-done immediacy for a slow-burning, fatalistic nightmare.
Album Highlight: “My God Is The Sun”
Listening back to this first album now, it’s shocking just how meek Josh Homme’s whinny sounds compared the full-bodied howl of his later records. But it’s exactly that sense of primitivism that lends Queens of the Stone Age its meat-and-potatoes quality, paving the way for all of Homme’s future endeavors with its boogieing, metal-inflected garage rock. The riffs come hard and plenty, whether in the slow grind of fan-favorite “Mexicola,” the cruising krautrock of “You Can’t Quit Me Baby,” or the snaky interplay of “You Would Know” — an early hint at Homme’s weirder, more atmospheric ambitions.
Album Highlight: “Mexicola”
If QOTSA’s debut album illustrated Homme’s longstanding kinship with doom metal, Rated R is where he finally cut the cord to seek greener pastures. The band’s breakthrough record is a masterful balancing act between the brutal and the elegant, splitting the difference between straight-ahead screamers like “Tension Head” and mysterious slow-builders like “Better Living Through Chemistry.” And if Homme’s mainstream prospects seemed uncertain up to that point, “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” proved just how much the man could do with a verse-chorus-bridge template.
Album Highlight: “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret”
Songs for the Deaf is conversely the band’s most unrelentingly heavy release, and the one that sounds like it was probably the most fun to record. Between the record’s generous bevy of collaborations—a dose of Nick Oliveri, a dash of Mark Lanegan, a heaping bucket of Dave Grohl—Songs for the Deaf is a great, hulking slab of hard rock at its purest: all mysticism, cheap hooks, and irresistible headlock grooves. It’s all right there in the first two songs; “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire” revs up the engine with its rampaging single-chord fury, before “Know One Knows” raises the bar with an even slicker, skull-crushing slice of dancefloor blues. QOTSA threw a full-on rager with Songs for the Deaf, the kind that you come home from with a tooth missing.
Album Highlight: “No One Knows”
After Songs for the Deaf proved a runaway hit, the surprise firing of bassist/shrieker Nick Oliveri after domestic abuse allegations stripped the group of their heaviest asset, and left the future of Josh Homme’s band of guitar gypsies uncertain. But sometimes you need to let go of those closest to you to find out who you really are. Their follow-up masterpiece is Josh Homme’s definitive statement, an insidious, psychedelic hard rock fantasia as vicious as it is restrained. It’s a haunting collection of nocturnal headbangers that gets to the heart of what Queens of the Stone Age has been about all along. Tight-knit singles like “Little Sister” and “In My Head” sit beside sprawling behemoths like “Someone’s In The Wolf” and “Everybody Knows That You Are Insane,” while the slithering “Tangled Up in Plaid” may be the most sinister song Homme has ever written, with its ambiguous tale of freedom and self-harm. In a discography full of pummeling riffs and unchecked aggression, it turns out that QOTSA’s most powerful music is the kind that creeps slowly into your head, shaking your body from the inside out.
Album Highlight: “Little Sister”