Does Josh Homme Have the Best Hit-Rate in Rock?
Joshua Homme has been around for a while. Twenty-six years, to be precise. While this body of work has been full of releases across a number of bands and in a variety of roles, the bar for his work has always been quite high. And regardless of expectation, Homme has always seemed to satisfy fans. More often than not, he exceeds hopes for quality records, and has rarely, if ever, disappointed. After listening to the first track released off the upcoming seventh Queens of the Stone Age album, Villains, I started wondering: Is Homme undefeated? Does he have the most-spotless record of any of rock’s major stars in the last two decades? The evidence points towards: yeah, probably, dude. Get ready to cruise through some funky, grimy, spastic & weird records as we look to find out.
The Kyuss Years: 1991–1996
Josh Homme has always been a bit rough around the edges; a bit of a weirdo from the desert. Growing up in Palm Springs, California and hosting generator-shows as a means to get Kyuss off the ground running always seemed like a bit of a badge of honor for him, separating them from the other alternative-rock bands of the early ’90s. Those idiosyncrasies, while present throughout his career, were most-prevalent probably with Kyuss.
Kyuss is notable for a number of reasons. Primarily, they were his first band. While Homme is regarded now as a major figure in rock, Kyuss was hardly competing with Nirvana for radio play. And while their early records hold up better than the latter material, there are signs of growing pains. Additionally, it was probably the most democratic Homme has been as a bandmate. Across four albums, Homme sings lead vocals on zero songs, ceding that responsibility to John Garcia, a frontman more in the vein of Chris Cornell and Robert Plant than Iggy Pop and Billy Gibbons.
While the band’s magnum opus seems to be their third album, 1994’s Welcome to Sky Valley, the output is fairly even across the board. The early albums flirted with classic rock from the ’70s, while applying a good amount of desert-weirdness to the sound. “Green Machine,” written by Homme showing early songwriting skills, displays what “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath might have sounded like if that band came from California instead of Birmingham, England. Kyuss’ final release, 1995’s …And the Circus Leaves Town, provided a number of hints towards the direction Homme would go with Queens of the Stone Age. My favorite Kyuss song is “El Rodeo,” which comes off that final record and shows Homme ready to make his guitar playing, which has always been stellar, the focal point of a band where he is the leader.
Albums: 1991’s Wretch (B); 1992's Blues for the Red Sun (B+); 1994’s Welcome to Sky Valley (A); 1995’s …And the Circus Leaves Town (A-)
Overall Grade: B+
Pre-SFTD Queens of the Stone Age: 1998–2002
If one thing became immediately certain upon the formation of QOTSA, it was that they were undoubtedly Homme’s band, and that anyone who would join was only a member of the band as long as Homme wanted them to be. Homme never extended past playing guitar and some songwriting credits with Kyuss. On QOTSA’s self-titled debut, he is credited with: guitars, vocals, production, bass and piano. The only other member of the band was Alfredo Hernandez (drummer), a Kyuss holdover who wouldn’t go on to appear on another QOTSA record. The self-titled contained a lot of riffs similar to latter-period Kyuss, easing the transition into the new band. While Homme didn’t seem fully comfortable with being the primary vocalist at this point, the space left for guitar riffs more than makes up for any awkwardness in the singing department.
Whatever discomfort Homme might have experienced as a frontman on the self-titled release had seemingly disappeared in the two years between it and the sophomore effort, 2000’s Rated R. Homme begins the album with a running list of drugs in his system on the aptly-titled “Feel Good Hit of the Summer.” The album flirts with experimentation, something that would be a bit of a calling card for the band, for the first time. The merger of weird hand-percussion with fuzzed-out riffs carried the band for its first few years. Rated R also featured Homme at his most democratic during QOTSA, with Nick Oliveri (also ex-Kyuss) being credited as a band-member playing bass and singing lead vocals on three tracks, as well as a slew of guest-musicians. Most notable of the bunch was Mark Lanegan, who sang lead on a personal favorite, “In the Fade,” as well as with the grunge-adjacent band Screaming Trees, that Homme toured with in the period between Kyuss and QOTSA as a guitarist. While Rated R isn’t necessarily the band’s best record, it was their first step towards firmly cementing them as a major player in rock music, with “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret,” achieving minor rock-radio success.
Albums: 1998’s Queens of the Stone Age (B+); 2000’s Rated R (A-)
Songs for the Deaf Era: 2002
There are maybe five-ish rock records from 2000–2005 that are on the same pedestal as Songs for the Deaf. It isn’t my favorite QOTSA album, but that doesn’t matter. It is THE album. There are few riffs as significant as the one that drives “No One Knows.” I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but that riff alone is responsible for the existence of at least a half-dozen bands in rock music today. And that’s just one song. There’s also this one and this one. Are you kidding me?
Songs for the Deaf brought Oliveri back and promoted Lanegan to full-fledged member status. It also added Dave Grohl as a drummer. Imagine Black Sabbath adding Jimmy Page as a guitarist after Paranoid. What an embarrassment of riches.
SFTD is certified Gold (has sold 500,000+ units), was the first of the band’s albums to feature on both the Top 200 albums and have a single on the Hot 100, and has appeared on several end-of-the-decade lists. I personally have a lot of time for it and I challenge anyone to feel differently.
Album: 2002’s Songs for the Deaf (A+)
Post-SFTD Queens of the Stone Age: 2005-Present
This is the era of the band where opinions seem to vary. After a somewhat consistent lineup for a couple of albums, Homme kicked out his long-time collaborator Oliveri, after a “falling out” that has never been discussed at length, but seems to have to do with the slew of legal issues Oliveri has had over the years. Every major position in the band has had a rotation of members in and out, save for Homme at the helm, and this in turn has led to each album having a sound pretty wholly unique.
My personal favorite QOTSA album is 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze. It’s Homme at his most experimental. Songs like “Someone’s in the Wolf,” “Burn the Witch,” “I Never Came” and “The Blood is Love” have an almost backwoods-cabaret horror theme to them. It’s almost Lynchian and it fits Homme very well. These songs are also paired with “Little Sister” and “In My Head” that double-down on the radio success that SFTD had. It’s definitely the highlight of this era of the band, which makes it all the more “disappointing” that the band wouldn’t return to this sound on subsequent albums.
Era Vulgaris was self-described as “robot-rock” and you don’t need to go any further than “Battery Acid” to find out why. While this isn’t necessarily anyone’s favorite QOTSA album, it is them at their most groove-centric, something Homme has always excelled at in small doses. While the album features the band’s worst song, it also features their best single and a handful of other gems, thereby making it essential.
If LTP was Homme flexing and EV was him pivoting, 2013’s Like Clockwork was him withdrawing inward a bit. This was due to an incident during surgery that reportedly threatened Homme’s life. Songs like “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” and the title track are essentially ballads reflecting on this incident. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (I maintain both tracks are “pretty good”), but it is a bit of a shock to the system. Homme has never been as much of a breakneck lunatic as his major influence, Motörhead’s Lemmy, has been but “slow” was never really a word used to describe Homme, until this album. That being said, can you really call an album with these three songs bad? I don’t think you can, unless you are Class Is Boring, in which case I am sorry. Additionally, this was the first time the band would top the Billboard Top 200 album chart, showing sustained relevance a decade after breaking through with SFTD.
While this period features seven different contributing members to the band, the consistency is pretty remarkable. And, while some of the albums are better than others, I challenge you to find another band that experimented with as many different genres in the same time period so successfully. No, really. Please find some, I wildly enjoy discussing these stupid things. Feel free to @ me at any time.
Albums: 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze (A+); 2007’s Era Vulgaris (B+); 2013’s Like Clockwork (B-)
Overall Grade: A-
Side Bands and Production Work
If anything could threaten to knock Homme below hitting in the .900 range, it would be that he seems to say “yes” to pretty much any project. Since 2009, Homme has been credited as a producer on four albums: Arctic Monkey’s Humbug, Iggy Pop’s Post-Pop Depression, CRX’s New Skin and Lady Gaga’s Joanne. The results are varied. Humbug has seemingly left a lasting impression on Arctic Monkeys, as they’ve never seemed to abandon the desert-rock sound since Homme injected it into them. Post-Pop Depression is the best Iggy, one of Homme’s idols, has sounded since 1980’s Soldier because Homme is a student of Iggy and might know his strengths better than anyone living (RIP Bowie). CRX is a The Strokes side-project and sounds like what you would imagine a The Strokes side-project would sound like in 2017. It would seem like Joanne is Gaga’s least well-received album to date, though that is hardly through the fault of Homme who only appears on four tracks. If he gets any credit as a producer at all, it’s that he seems to be able to tap into whatever weirdness each of the artists had been repressing and brings it to the forefront, while keeping their signature sounds in tact.
While the production is varied, but still pretty good, the side project bands are much more lopsided. I stand by Them Crooked Vultures as one of his best albums/bands to date. Pairing Homme and Grohl together is always a success, and why not just throw in the best living bassist? If you have the opportunity to record an album with a member of Led Zeppelin, you should maybe do that. This goes. Office hours are closed for dissenting opinions.
Eagles of Death Metal doesn’t get the same praise. It’s the worst thing that Homme has put his name on and also the most confounding. It’s the first time where Homme has allowed himself to either not have control or have equal footing in a band, relegating himself to drumming and production, while childhood friend Jesse Hughes sings, plays guitar, and contributes the bulk of songwriting duties. If you have a voice and guitar skills like Homme, you should probably sing and play guitar. It would be one thing if the music was just fine, which might be a bit generous for EODM, but it doesn’t help that Hughes seems to be a certifiable asshole. Homme doesn’t ever really seem to defend Hughes, but his silence regarding his bandmate’s repeated foot-in-mouthing is … strange. It’s the most clearly spotted smudge on an otherwise stellar record.
Albums: 2004’s Eagles of Death Metal-Peace, Love, Death Metal (C+); 2006’s Eagles of Death Metal-Death By Sexy (B-); 2008’s Eagles of Death Metal-Heart On (C-); 2009’s Arctic Monkeys-Humbug (A); 2009’s Them Crooked Vultures-Them Crooked Vultures (A-); 2015’s Eagles of Death Metal (C+); 2016’s Iggy Pop-Post Pop Depression (A); 2016’s Lady Gaga-Joanne (B-); 2016’s CRX-New Skin (C).
Overall Grade: B
So, is Homme the most consistently-reliable musician in rock? Using my very scientific metric, he seems to have an overall class grade of a B+ and it batting above .850. While there are definitely some missteps, there’s never really been any disasters. And few rock stars have reached the peaks he has, while also consistently putting stuff in the same ballpark of quality repeatedly.
Queens of the Stone Age might not ever make it in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Kyuss has been eligible to be inducted for two years and hasn’t made it on the ballot either time. While he doesn’t seem to have the cultural standing that his buddy Dave Grohl has, I would challenge anyone to tell me that his overall record of quality isn’t superior. And there are plenty of other active musicians in rock that don’t have the reputation for success that Grohl has. All hail the Ginger God of the Desert. Long may he reign.