Era Vulgaris

Era Vulgaris

1.
Turning on the Screw
5.20
2.
Sick, Sick, Sick
3:34
3.
I’m Designer
4:04
4.
Into the Hollow
3:32
5.
Misfit Love
5:39
6.
Battery Acid
4:36
7.
Make It Wit Chu
4:50
8.
3′s & 7′s
3:34
9.
Suture Up Your Future
4:37
10.
River in the Road
3:19
11.
Run Pig Run
4:48
12.
Running Joke (Bonus on UK Version) 2:57

Band Members:

  • Joshua Homme – Vocals/Guitar
  • Troy Van Leeuwen – Vocals/Guitar/Keyboard/Lap Steel
  • Joey Castillo – Drums
  • Alain Johannes – Bass

Other Personnel/Musicians:

  • Mark Lanegan – Backing Vocals on River in the Road
  • Julian Casablancas – Backing Vocals & Synth Guitar on Sick, Sick, Sick
  • Trent Reznor – Backing Vocals on Era Vulgaris (track was cut from album)
  • Chris Goss – Producer

Imagine you’re in an old record store, full of those old and scratchy vinyls everywhere and you go to that pile of kids’ records. Right at the bottom you stare at a purple cover, with a “Mono” mix advertise and a vinyl mark on it like it’s been pressed by all that pile upon it and the cover is now almost thinner than the disc, by that time you’re already asking yourself what two light bulbs – a pirate bulb with a “wooden arm” and a smoking bulb – are doing in the front cover. Yet, you read “Era Vulgaris” on the top of it and then you realize you are totally confused. You decide to take it; after all, such an unusual record should take a spin. After the first listen you start to laugh at the salesman, because only such a dumb one would sell a kid record with a changed disc of the hardest and best stuff you’ve heard in years inside. Right?

Wrong.

In fact, yeah, it is the hardest and best stuff you’ve heard in years, but it’s the fifth Queens of the Stone Age’s record and the cover is not changed.

Era Vulgaris was recorded from July, 2006 until April 2007 at Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles Streakhouse Studios, Studio City Sound City Studios, Van Nuys by Alain Johannes and produced by Josh Homme and Chris Goss (The Fififf Teeners), the same partnership of Rated R production. It was released by Interscope at June 12th, 2007 in the US.

“Whatever that means, right”?

Says so Bulby, the yellow smoker bulb, about the title “Era Vulgaris” on one of the promo videos the band put on their website. In fact, Era Vulgaris is a term used by the writer and occultist A. Crowley to describe the modern age. The band decided it after a meeting that each one would bring music and books to inspire the others, and everyone brought Crowley books. Even though it can be related to an age without God, the band explains that would be more properly to consider as an age in which we’re all living; and an age we have in common.

The artwork was done by Morning Breath, Inc. and it is inspired by the 50′s pin-ups advertising. The concept is all over the booklet with slogans everywhere and also some kind of underwear advertises that reminds a bit of the classic Rolling Stones’ album “Some Girls”. This concept was used to promote the album, as well as the Bulby videos.

Era Vulgaris was, again, recorded by a core line-up, just like Lullabies to Paralyze (their 4 th record), consisted by Joshua Homme, Troy Van Leeuwen and Joey Castillo. The trio got reinforcements with long-time-partner and last-tour-member Alain Johannes, who also mixed the album, and a few guests like Mark Lanegan, Julian Casablancas and Trent Reznor. Lanegan’s been doing guest appearances in Queens of the Stone Age since their second album Rated R, but unlike all others participations which he did lead vocals to, at least, one song, in Era Vulgaris his voice is hidden in the “aah’s” choruses during River in the Road. Casablancas’ appearance was more relevant by singing two lines in a kind of coda during the repetition of the chorus of Sick, Sick, Sick, plus some ‘keytar’ playing, a kind of synth guitar, during the song. Reznor participation was the biggest of the three by doing backing vocals on the title track “Era Vulgaris” and even a lead vocal segment through the bridge of the song. The funny part of it is that “Era Vulgaris” ended never making through the final track list of the record, it can only be found on some world-wide bonus tracks editions like the UK one and a promo CD better detailed soon.

Speaking of line-ups, two additions were made to replace Natasha Schneider and Alain Johannes during the new tour, Dean Fertita (known for being a tour member of The Raconteurs) on keyboard, guitar and moog and Mike Shuman (from Wires on Fire) on bass.

Keeping a core formation for so long certainly brought a solid path to the band. Changes always require adaptation and new ways to play and write. The chemistry growing strong allowed not only a creative music and experimentation but mainly a step forward in the writing. Queens’ lyrics were always known for its subjectivism and hidden thoughts. But Era Vulgaris songs are clearly more direct and understandable. Josh says that so many years playing music and writing made him stop being vulnerable like he thought he was before. Of course the subjectivism is still around with songs like River in the Road, Misfit Love and Run, Pig, Run, the sexyness stills on Sick, Sick, Sick and Make it Wit Chu but the direct lyrics award goes definitely to I’m Designer, the song is a subtle irony of the age we’re living in, lines like “The thing that’s real for us is: Fortune and Fame” and “How many times must I sell myself before my pieces are gone ?” shows the idea.

That solid path also changed the mind of most of their fans; what we heard the most during the Lullabies-era was the missing of Nick Oliveri, some fans accepted the change right after the release of Lullabies, but surely the biggest part just agreed with it after the release of Era Vulgaris, we can say now that Oliveri is more an enormous part of the band’s past then an extremely necessary addition.

The hard edge will be gone!

Or maybe not! From the eleven songs of the main track list, three of them are more slowed down and have that ballad feel. In fact it is a considerable quantity if we compare to Songs For the Deaf, for instance.

Into the Hollow is the fourth track. A great riff driven song, lead by a mellow lap steel over the choruses that adds a beautiful texture to the harmony. This track and Make it Wit Chu are the only ones that had early versions before Era Vulgaris. Hollow was played in a The Fififf Teeners (Goss, Homme and a drum machine) concert in February 2006. And Make it Wit Chu is a reworked version of I Wanna Make it Wit Chu from The Desert Sessions Vol. 9&10.

Make it Wit Chu is probably one of the best ballads the band’s ever done. It mixes the slow tempo of a groovy ballad with catchy and sexy lyrics! This new version is about one minute longer because an addition of a short guitar solo in the beginning and an extended one in the end.

Suture Up Your Future is a distinct ballad. It has everything it needs for a heavy song, punching drums, loud bass and great riffs, but the cadency of the melody and the vocals turns it into a soft and gorgeous act. Another noticeable thing is the scale of notes that keeps playing during the verses building an almost bluesy atmosphere that walks together with the vocal lines. The chorus breaks the scales to a ‘let ring’ guitar interval with, also, more melodious and extended vocals.

Doing things the hard way forever!

Homme always said that heaviness in guitar is not about distortion but development. And he is right. One of Era Vulgaris most interesting points is the polishing of the riffs. In part may be the choice of the standard tuning to most of the tracks, but definitely there’s a clearer sound in songs like I’m Designer and Turnin’ on the Screw.

Sick, Sick, Sick and 3′s & 7′s are the first singles of the record. Sick, Sick, Sick already had a video, some kind of a small concert to one lady that is having a huge dinner and end by eating the guys from the band. In fact, choosing those two songs was a great choice. While Sick, Sick, Sick creates that catchy side with its choruses and hard hitting, 3′s & 7′s shows the new Queens’ amazing sound with its mellow – and, believe it, sing along – lead guitar.

The album opener, Turnin’ on the Screw, is one of the teaser videos that the band put on You Tube. It opens with a dancing intro that makes the riffs explosion sound even more powerful. All the verses end with a rhythm segment that turns them into a chorus, but, lyrically, they don’t repeat themselves. Which leads us to I’m Designer. This third track is certainly one of the most surprisingly songs of Era Vulgaris. Firstly, the drums have a totally unique beat and timing that can sound awkward in the beginning but later you’ll definitely say it is genius. The song is complemented yet with minimalist layers and really interesting lyrics, as said above. Another relevant aspect is the change of rhythm in every part of the song; we got the strange verse, the melodic chorus and the breath taking, literally, bridge.

Misfit Love is the album’s definitive epic! It is the longest track with its almost 6 minutes of pure groove, hardness and tenseness. When played live, the song borders the 7 minutes because of an extended intro the band usually does. What make this epic even more stunning is its last minutes, when everything speeds up and changes the whole thing. Misfit is about moving from the desert to L.A., and knowing that just makes the fast ending sound even faster and gives it a whole new sense of depth. Battery Acid is the masochist slice of the bunch. The sexyness blended with technology equals the omnipresent robot fuck! It is another heavy track; but this time with screaming bridges and marching drums.

River in the Road and Run, Pig, Run are the last tracks. They complete each other and give Era Vulgaris no better closure. River is the ultimate experimental Queens’ song. Sirens make their way through the intro and real thick marching drums breaks in to keep looping until it finishes. Dark, subjective lyrics incremented with the almost-inaudible Lanegan’s resonance screams give the final touches to this singular song. Plus, River is a chaotic prelude to Run, Pig, Run. Pig has the heaviest and most attacking riffs of the record that goes hitting our ears while Homme whispers his falsettos about games of hide and seek. Which, by the way, is the track that more refers to Lullabies to Paralyze conceptually speaking; musically speaking, it has references to gypsies’ marches. The standard editions will finish by here, but the non-standard versions with bonus tracks are listed and explained in the Extra/Additional Info at the end of the review.

Giving 100%, 80% of the time!

As said before, the song “Era Vulgaris” was cut from the standard editions of the record. Homme explained that Era is surely an outstanding track, but it couldn’t fit properly in the middle of the eleven main tracks, so it’s only available on special editions and in the promo CD called “You Know What You Did”.

You Know What You Did promo was given to a few fans all over the world after a contest ran by ‘thefade.net’ where anyone could participate by simply sending the required information. A few days later, these lucky fans received a DVD called “Joshua’s Famous Step by Step Party Dance” with a letter and a CD labeled “You Know What You Did” inside.

The CD contained only “Era Vulgaris”, which the letter allowed to spread all over the web later that day. Era was, then, officially the first hearable track before the record’s release. Overall, it’s an amazing melody. All the ‘marching feel’ is now focused on the guitars until the friendly shouted choruses come in. Such exceptional song shouldn’t be cut from the album. But another interesting thing is that Homme did some short appearances on a track of Nine Inch Nails’ last record, but it never got released. Ironically, or pure vengeance, this Trent Reznor participation on Era Vulgaris was cut as well.

Say satisfied fans!

Era Vulgaris is a surprising and an outstanding album. With everything said about the band’s evolution and new ways, one thing yet to be told is Homme’s even better voice. A step forward in his singing was clearly taken during Lullabies to Paralyze-era, but back then, the step was a bit shy and just evident on a few songs; Era’s vocals are really stepping forward, just to name a few: Into the Hollow, Run, Pig, Run, Misfit Love and also older songs when played live.

The live line-up is also surprising. The addition of Dean Fertita brought two more keyboards and a third guitar; Queens’ sound is thicker than ever been. Mike Shuman also brought more heaviness to the band. The guy can scream and sing really well. He brought back those screaming backing vocals of Oliveri’s days. Songs like “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” got a whole new feel after the comeback of the shouting cocaine’s. And Misfit Love, for instance, got a great duet in its end with Homme singing the low parts and Shuman doing the high ones.

This line-up recorded some extra tracks to be released on a couple of singles. Christian Brothers (Elliott Smith cover) and Goin’ out West (Tom Waits cover) were recorded on Rancho de la Luna after Era Vulgaris was finished. Both of them are really great, Christian has beautiful Homme’s falsettos and it’s really melodic; West is pretty heavy and features Homme on vocals when everyone was waiting for a cover with Lanegan because of his sound-alike heavy and dark voice.

Lastly, Era Vulgaris is one perfect rock record and one more perfect Queens of the Stone Age’s album. Changes usually don’t seem good or don’t come in appropriate time, but they showed us, once again, that talented musicians and the will to keep pushing the music to its extremes – even sometimes looking like workaholics -, is the right formula to continue the uniqueness of the most creative, innovative and non-cliché bands of the vulgar era we’re living. It’s really good to see a band in a constant line of evolution that can surprise us with every record they put. Too Good to be True? 

Extra/Additional Information:

- Bulby’s voice is dubbed by Liam Lynch (director of Tenacious D movie and series)

- Sick, Sick, Sick has an alternative video which was directed by Liam Lynch

- 3′s & 7′s got purposely ‘leaked’ through the band’s website player and some days later the same thing happened to Sick, Sick, Sick

- Make it Wit Chu was mixed by Joe Barresi, the same guy who produced their first homonymous record in 1998 and Lullabies to Paralyze in 2005

- Unlike past albums, Era Vulgaris’ world wide versions got no specific this or that bonus tracks

- Bonus tracks:

Running Joke - a Lullabies’ song that didn’t make through the record and was recorded and released as a bonus now; a beautiful short ballad.

Era Vulgaris.

The Fun Machine Took a Shit and Died 
- a 7 minute epic that’s been released before on Over the Years and Through the Woods live DVD, and also in a vinyl as a demo given to people who bought tickets to a concert that was cancelled in England.

White Wedding (Billy Idol cover) – it can be found on Best Buy’s versions of the album.

Review & additional information by Daniel Yuri