Take rapper Kendrick Lamar's landmark Pulitzer Prize win for his magnum opus, Damn, as a sign of the times: Rock 'n' roll is less relevant now than it has been at any point in the past 60 years.
Not only are the most urgent, socially engaged voices in pop music almost all hip-hop (never mind that Lil Yachty doesn't know a cello from a flute or a clarinet), but also it's clear that songs driven by the electric guitar — long the dominant form of American music — simply aren't connecting with the under-40 crowd the way they used to. Sales of electric guitars are down by 30 percent over the past decade, Billboard's Hot 100 chart is almost entirely devoid of traditional rock bands, and rappers such as Earl Sweatshirt have become more culturally relevant than Bono. At this point, most teenagers are probably more interested in buying a drum machine and messing around with samples than starting a garage-rock band.
Now that the Mick Jaggers, Jimmy Pages, and Paul McCartneys of the world are well into their golden years, we're left with only a handful of larger-than-life rock stars who are culturally relevant. So Josh Homme, with his greased hair, leather jacket, and devil-may-care attitude, is the last of a nearly extinct breed as the frontman of the California alternative-rock band Queens of the Stone Age.
With QOTSA's Villains World Tour set to shake the foundation of Bayfront Park Amphitheater Tuesday, May 1, New Times reflects on the band's legacy and place in modern music.
Formed from the ashes of Homme's earlier band, the Palm Desert stoner-rock quartet Kyuss, QOTSA burst onto the scene with a self-titled debut album in 1998. The group employed a combination of repetitive proto-metal riffage, a barrage of bottom-end bass, and Homme's silky, lilting vocals, which sounded, shockingly, sort of feminine. Indeed, from the beginning, the biggest band in hard rock provided a subtle and sardonic counterpoint to the genre's cartoonish hypermasculinity. (It's in the name.)
The band's sophomore album, Rated R (2000), was pulled from shelves at Walmart for allegedly promoting drug use on "Feel Good Hit of the Summer." That song, coincidentally, featured guest vocals from Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford, one of QOTSA's many celebrity admirers at that point. But the band didn't truly break through to mainstream audiences until its followup, Songs for the Deaf (2002), for which Foo Fighters' frontman Dave Grohl was recruited to play drums. The album included major radio hits "No One Knows" and "Go With the Flow," which were included in the first iterations of the videogames Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The world was introduced to Homme's searing guitar riffs and solos, dramatic and delicate vocal style, and flaming red hair. An unlikely postmillennial rock star was born.
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Queens of the Stone Age continued putting out albums — Lullabies to Paralyze (2005), Era Vulgaris (2007), and ...Like Clockwork (2013) — while establishing themselves as absolute dynamos onstage. Their latest record, Villains, has drawn the ire of some critics and angry YouTube commenters who don't like megaproducer Mark Ronson's dance influence on the album. And, yeah, the way he compresses sounds kind of makes the mix sound muted and static, especially if you're a QOTSA purist conditioned to expect wide-open, stadium-stomping rhythm sections. But the tight disco vibe makes Villains the most accessible (and fun) album QOTSA has put out in a long time.
More important to keeping the rock art form alive, though, is the album's spirit of experimentation. Only a couple of the tracks operate under the verse-chorus paradigm, and most clock in at least five or six minutes, ending nowhere near where they began. The spontaneity and audacity that have always injected so much excitement into QOTSA's sound are very much intact, as is the screw-off attitude and exploitation of decades-old metal clichés. It is, as they say, totally bitchin.'
Over the past couple of decades, Homme has slowly evolved into something more than a rock singer or a guitar player. He's a sneering, cigarette-smoking, guitar-shredding cultural icon. In this new era dominated by hip-hop, Homme hasn't gotten the message. He and his band are the rock stars we need.
Queens of the Stone Age: Villains World Tour. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 1, at Bayfront Park Amphitheater, 301 N. Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-358-7550. Tickets cost $18 to $70 via livenation.com.