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Queens of the Stone age are still kings

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Queens of theStone Age”Era Vulgaris” InterscopeQueens of the Stone Age have outlasted their early tag as a mere “stoner rock” band to encompass something more complex and meaningful. Their latest, “Era Vulgaris,” showcases a flair for experimentation without sacrificing singer-guitarist Josh Homme’s trademark monster riffs, but even die-hard fans might need a few listens before the album’s dark charms fully sink in.Lead single “Sick, Sick, Sick” remains one of the strongest songs the Queens have ever released: Homme’s rapid-fire lyrics and lightning guitarwork complement an undeniable swing, and it seems to strike the perfect balance of “for-the-boys” rock and “for-the-ladies” death-dance boogie Homme’s been aiming at for years.”I’m Designer” features jaunty, falsetto choruses seguing into a beautiful chorus as Homme faux-laments for the current generation of crazy kids with clever lyrics like “Our generation’s for sale / It’s a steady job.” “Turn of the Screw” tips a hat to “The Silence of the Lambs” by wryly recycling the line, “it puts the lotion in the basket.”Previously, Queens seemed like The Josh Homme Show, but “Era Vulgaris” showcases the other bandmembers’ strengths, and slowly but surely they’re all contributing integral parts to the mix. Troy Van Leeuwen’s slide guitar and keyboard trills serve as necessary bells and whistles, and Joey Castillo remains a punishing drummer equally reliable for metal stomps and dance-floor romps.Perhaps the band’s best strength is also its weakness: Queens of the Stone Age have a knack for crafting brilliantly off-kilter melodies that seem off-putting at first but eventually wind their way into your subconscious, never to leave. “Battery Acid” struck me as obnoxiously repetitive until I found myself singing it in the shower…and the car…and at work. If listeners can get past what annoys them at first, they may just end up loving it.It helps that Josh Homme possesses on of the best and most versatile voices in rock music, and he thoroughly knows how to use it. He sneers, coos, and yells like a carnival barker – sometimes within the same song – but he never swaggers at the sacrifice of melody. “Make It Wit Chu” is such a gentle, soulful take on make-out R&B that you’ll be amazed it’s the same singer whipping up a frenzy in heated garage rockers like “3’s and 7’s.” Atmosphere has always played a huge part in the QOTSA sound, and nowhere is it more vital than on “Era Vulgaris.” Though the rock n’ roll offerings on hand differ, there’s a dark, sexy pulse that connects every song – it’s something unidentifiably evil and undeniably rock n’ roll. At one point, Homme sings “the devil made me holier than any man,” and you believe him.

Queens of the Stone Age create wildly diverse musical offerings while still sounding like themselves – an impressive feat that in the past sometimes led to brilliant but inconsistent albums. “Era Vulgaris” keeps most of that brilliance and serves as perhaps their most consistent album to date.- Ted Alvarez Marilyn Manson”Eat Me, Drink Me” InterscopePoor Marilyn Manson: Turns out that underneath all the latex and nihilism, the shock-rocker just wanted to be loved. And he was, for a while. But when his marriage to burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese fell apart last year, Manson was distraught until a new romance with barely post-jailbait actress Evan Rachel Wood helped lift him out of depression.He channeled his competing emotions into the songs on his latest, which is perhaps his least intentionally antagonistic album. It’s surely no coincidence that “Eat Me, Drink Me” is also among Manson’s most compelling records: These songs are taut, anguished sketches as he purges the dysfunction of his broken marriage and warily circles Wood, balancing his attraction with the fear of getting burned again.Manson plays a massive guitar riff that tears through “Putting Holes in Happiness” while he intones, “You taste like Valentine’s, and we cry.” “Heart-Shaped Glasses (When the Heart Guides the Hand)” is a jittery dance-punk seduction, and Manson croaks over jangling guitar and distant drums to start “Just a Car Crash Away,” which surges on the chorus and then recedes into the darkness hovering around the edges.Despite the darkness – and there’s plenty on “Eat Me, Drink Me” – Manson for once offers the distant light of redemption. If the “Antichrist Superstar” hasn’t abandoned hope, maybe love can conquer all.

– Eric R. Danton, L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service Big & Rich”Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace” Warner Bros.Big and Rich’s splashy 2004 debut was most memorable for its blend of loopy irreverence and a genre-crossing mentality on tunes such as “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.” The duo’s follow-up was a paler echo of that formula, and their third album, “Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace,” finds the most appealing parts of eclectic barnstormer’s swagger drained away on a drowsy collection of songs that travels the middle of the road rather than blazing new trails.The pair lean toward a rock mentality in which country is an afterthought: for example, the mandolin that trims the garden-variety pop pulse of “You Never Stop Loving Somebody.” When stone country is brought into play, it is offered for laughs in a swirl of fiddles and rippling piano on a twangy rendition of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.”The pair’s deadpan vocal style comes across as playful as it matches up with Wyclef Jean for the percolating bob of “Please Man,” but more often they sound mechanical in the way that deadens the chugging rock swell of “Radio.” Frequent moments of earnest meditation and positive thinking are mired in the sort of bland predictability that plagues the sleepy wedding number “Lost in This Moment,” and flashes of greater energy tend to lack enticing personality. It makes for one slow-moving party train.- Thomas Kintner, L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service



Tim Armstrong”A Poet’s Life” EpitaphTim Armstrong’s flirtation with Jamaican music goes back to at least the late ’80s, when he founded Operation Ivy, a hugely influential California band that mixed Two Tone-style ska with righteous punk aggression.More recently, as front man for Rancid, Armstrong has continued on a similar path, peppering albums like “…And Out Come the Wolves” and “Life Won’t Wait” with welcome bits of offbeat bounce.With “A Poet’s Life,” his first solo album, Armstrong goes a step further. Enlisting the Aggrolites – Los Angeles’ finest roots ska/ reggae band – as his backing unit, the grizzled punk lifer slurs garbled lines over authentic sun-baked bass and organ grooves.In doing so, Armstrong invites and mostly justifies comparisons to Joe Strummer, the late Clash singer and reggae aficionado he has long worked hard to emulate.Whereas Strummer often looked globally, though, Armstrong spends much of the record in his own little world. He alternately wallows in heartbreak and jealousy, as on “Wake Up,” and then picks himself back up with the celebratory, brass-powered “Into Action.”Throughout, the island rhythms seem to give Armstrong comfort and strength. With louder guitars and a little more snarl, these songs might have skewed bitter, but here, they’re daybreak after a long, dark night.- Kenneth Partridge, L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service


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