QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE albums ranked: From worst to best | Revolver

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE albums ranked: From worst to best

A critical look at Josh Homme and Co.'s imposing catalog
queens of the stone age 2023 PROMO USE, Andreas Neumann
photograph by Andreas Neumann

In a century when rock gets declared dead on a yearly basis, the mere existence of Queens of the Stone Age shuts down that absurd claim. Josh Homme and his rotating cast of co-conspirators have been churning out albums for over two decades that draw from the well of "classic rock" without sounding like a cheap revival act.

Straddling the metal-tinged stonerisms of his old band Kyuss, the fuzz-loaded psych hooks of Black Sabbath's Sabbath Bloody Sabbath years, the wild-man proto-punk of the Stooges and the tuneful garage rock that dominated the early 2000s, Queens of the Stone Age sound like so many different iterations of guitar music while also retaining their own unique identity.

As savagely hooky as they are gleefully battering, the band have as much cache among metalheads as they do alt-rock festival types, and their seven-album discography (not counting their upcoming LP, In Times New Roman...) adds up to a formidable body of work. Below, we ranked every record from worst to best.

7. Villains

Villains is Queens of the Stone Age's only true misstep. Riding high off the mighty return to form that was 2013's ...Like Clockwork, the band swung a little too far outside their wheelhouse on this shiny, funky dance-floor soundtrack. Produced by bigwig pop boardsmith Mark Ronson (Lady Gaga, Amy Whinehouse, etc.), the record sounds way too spick and span for a Queens album, stripping the serrated power of their attack in favor of glitzier guitar tones and ornate backing instrumentation that lacks grit.

The retro-funk boogie "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" is objectively catchy as hell, but it'd fit too nicely on a playlist alongside Bruno Mars. Elsewhere, QOTSA's signature fuzzy crunch is traded for sleazy, honky-tonk shuffles ("The Way You Used to Do") and whimsical garage-punk blitzes ("Head Like a Haunted House") that are more awkward than awesome. Villains was underwhelming, but that's mostly because Homme and Co. previously set the bar so high.

6. Lullabies to Paralyze

Following the 2004 firing of wild-man bassist Nick Oliveri, Homme made Queens' fourth album with a whole new crew, bringing on axman Troy Van Leeuwen and drummer Joey Castillo (the latter filling the spot Dave Grohl had on Songs for the Deaf). It's the first QOTSA record that sounds unsure of itself. Subdued, one-dimensional and way less immediately catchy than its two knockout predecessors, Lullabies to Paralyze is a marked step-down in quality, but it still has stellar moments.

The slow-growing "In My Head" is a squinty-eyed cruiser with dollops of hooky vocals and dazzling layers of guitar, and the propulsive "Little Sister" hits the band's motorik, crunchy sweet spot. Frustratingly, it takes half the record's length to get there, meandering through Paisley-shirt psychedelia and minimalist blues-rock that lacks the slugging punch of QOTSA's most definitive work. Lullabies overall lives up to its namesake — it rocks itself to sleep more than it rocks the fuck out.

5. Era Vulgaris

Arriving two years after Lullabies and made with more or less the same lineup, Era Vulgaris falls into many of the same traps as its precursor. The songwriting lacks the efficient vigor of career-defining tunes like "No One Knows" and "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret," and as a body of work, it doesn't capture the same thrilling arc that made Songs for the Deaf and Rated R so hard to pull your ear away from.

However, unlike Lullabies and Villains, this album does contain some of the band's best songs. The delirious, Grateful Dead-ish sex nugget "Make It Wit Chu" dates back to the pre-Kyuss Desert Sessions, but Homme finally shaped it into a proper earworm — possibly Queens' catchiest ever. "3's and 7's," on the other hand, is a Nirvana-like punk burner with riffs that threaten to bulldoze Homme's voice off the mixing board. Era Vulgaris is by no means a bad record, but the band have undeniably made better.

4. Queens of the Stone Age

The first Queens of the Stone Age album serves as a bridge between the billowing desert-metal of Kyuss and the hazy, double-barreled pop-rock of Homme's current venture. The bandleader played almost every instrument himself besides drums (manned by Kyuss' Alfredo Hernández), and came up with a fully-formed sound right out the gate, a sensual, swaggering thrum of fuzz that sunk its teeth into Seventies hard rock, but with the force of heavy guitar music in the era after grunge changed everything.

All the wheels were spinning on this self-titled firecracker. The spider-legged guitar lead on "Regular John." The gnarled, noise-rock churn of "Walkin' on the Sidewalks." The effortless catchiness of songs like "How to Handle a Rope" and "If Only." These are the building blocks of QOTSA's iconic sound, and while Homme would wield them in more adventurous and radically gratifying ways on future releases, his 1998 opening salvo is not to be skipped over. This is the starting point.

3. ...Like Clockwork

...Like Clockwork arrived six long years after Era Vulgaris and two years after Homme was bedridden for four months from a bungled surgery. It was forged in the throes of a debilitating depressive spell and a tumultuous studio environment that ultimately led to the departure of drummer Joey Castillo. And yet, out of the chaos, ...Like Clockwork rose phoenix-like, a career-rejuvenating triumph that course-corrected Queens' mojo after two good-not-great LPs.

Produced by pop engineer Mark Rankin (Cee Lo Green, Foster the People, Adele) and boasting a superstar guest list — Dave Grohl, Elton John, Trent Reznor, Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner, among others — ...Like Clockwork sounds big, modern and sleek, but still edgy, powerful, roaring and fucking funky. From the swanky "If I Had a Tail" and ascendant "Fairweather Friends" to the elastic "Smooth Sailing" and balmy "I Sat by the Ocean," the tracklist is stacked. It's so good that it almost competes with their two best records. Almost.

2. Rated R

There isn't a better one-two punch in QOTSA's discography than "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" — an engine-revving, bottle-smashing drug anthem — walloping into "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" — a dashboard-smacking, spliff-passing summer sing-along. The opening duo on Queens' breakthrough second album, Rated R, jostled a rock & roll zeitgeist that was aching for something hard, raw and real during the nu-metal- and pop-punk-dominated dawn of the new millennium.

Co-written and co-sung by Homme's former Kyuss bandmate Nick Oliveri — and with additional vocal help from Screaming Trees croaker Mark Lanegan — Rated R is the first of Queens' two most defining opuses, vastly expanding the straightforward desert-rock of their debut into noisier, catchier, rawkier and more righteously inebriated creative directions. In any other band's discography, this would be a clear No. 1.

1. Songs for the Deaf

From the Desert Sessions and Kyuss to Queens' first two albums, Homme's music always felt like it was designed to blare out of car stereos, so on Songs for the Deaf, he built that setting into the record itself. Again co-written with his longtime partner-in-crime Oliveri, and with the powerhouse Dave Grohl behind the kit, QOTSA's third and best album is loosely structured so that each song is a radio-dial twist to a new station.

Thusly, the shrieking, hand-clapping firestarter "You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, but I Feel Like a Millionaire" transitions into the perky, surging "No One Knows." The Sabbath-on-speed "First it Giveth" flips into the haggard headbanger "Songs for the Dead," which pile-drives into the vine-like climb of "The Sky is Fallin.'" The pace never really slows, the sheer bulk of the riffage never wanes and the trio of vocalists — Homme, Oliveri and Lanegan — keep trading off so their voices never grow monotonous.

Ambitious yet bashing, understatedly clever yet stupidly blunt and clobbering, Songs for the Deaf might be the best rock & roll album of the 21st century. At the very least, it's Queens of the Stone Age's undisputed masterpiece.