In light of 2002’s monolithic Songs for the Deaf, 2000’s Rated R can’t help being viewed as a prologue, a test run of sorts for the fully realized artistic breakthrough that would follow. This isn’t to say that there’s anything about Rated R that’s sloppy or weak. Frontman and lead guitarist Josh Homme was clearly and impressively in command of an instrumentally superlative group, but it wasn’t until Songs for the Deaf that it was clear that Queens of the Stone Age were seizing their moment and ready for bigger crowds. Ridiculously hooky and heavy as it may be, Rated R finds QOTSA mostly concerned with entertaining themselves.
And as it turns out, that ain’t a bad thing at all. Maybe “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” was Homme’s sarcastic rebuke to the stoner rock tag that had been following him around since his days in Kyuss, but it’s amusing and fun to this day. Former bassist and Homme’s most vital muse (as it turns out), Nick Oliveri throws in a pair of his hilariously psychotic metal exercises (“Quick and to the Pointless”, “Tension Head”), and they provide a couple of much-appreciated late album diversions into less brooding territory.
But the real joys of Rated R come from the two areas where Queens of the Stone Age thrive: the groove-oriented, mid-tempo psychedelic jams, and colossal head-fucks full of spiraling guitars and dizzying drums. There are a number of highlights in the former category; “The Lost Art of Keeping A Secret” rides an insidious bass line to modern rock radio glory and “In the Fade” alternates between trippy, hypnotic verses and heavier choruses, expertly presided over by guest singer Mark Lanegan. As far as the more massive epics go, there’s the much beloved “Better Living Through Chemistry”, one of the best showcases for Homme’s instrumental dexterity. And the rest of the band perfectly augments Homme’s fleet fretwork, with Oliveri intuitively riding the ebb and flow of this schizophrenic monster.
“Better Living Through Chemistry” alone justifies the reissue of Rated R, but there’s plenty of other highlights that I haven’t even mentioned (“Auto Pilot”, “Monsters in the Parasol”). With the exception of the mostly lumbering behemoth “I Think I Lost My Headache”,” Rated R is rarely boring. In fact, given the dearth of legitimately good hard rock music that has spanned from before Rated R’s release through to the current reissue, this album’s just about as refreshing today as it was in 2000.
The studio material on the bonus disc is clearly b-side fodder, but not in a disappointing way. There’s an entertaining spin on Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” (“You’re So Vague”), one of Homme’s many songs about trying to convince a woman to sleep with him (“Never Say Never”), and a lively cover of the Kinks’ “Who’ll Be the Next In Line”, all of which aren’t essential but are plenty enjoyable. The remainder of the bonus disc is largely devoted to a set at the 2000 Reading Festival which proves that QOTSA is almost as electric onstage as in the studio.
As usual with these reissues, the extras are there to provide longtime fans with an incentive to pick up another copy of an album they already own. But at least they’re decent extras, good enough to make the inevitable Songs for the Deaf reissue something to excitedly anticipate. Even if it hasn’t been very long since QOTSA’s creative peak, with Oliveri long gone from the band and Homme distracted by Them Crooked Vultures, we should be more than happy to indulge in some prime Queens of the Stone Age nostalgia.