It was at one of those get togethers you attend with your other half, so there’s always a few folks you’ve not met before. My girlfriend was saying hello to her sisters and various old acquaintances she’d not seen for years and I must have stood out like a sore thumb, because this giant of a man sidled up to me and said “‘Cos no one else will introduce you, I’ll say hello. I’m Chris”.
Chris was a good sort and the type of vivacious and chatty chap that can put total strangers at ease. We had exchanged small talk for quarter of an hour, but when he realised I wasn’t a big sports fan, he did the classic thing of quizzing me about music. Now we really started talking. During an animated back and forth conversation we recommended acts and albums to each other, until I confessed to not having heard much by Queens of the Stone Age beyond their well received Rated R album.
“What, you’ve not heard Songs for the Deaf?”
“No, I just never really got around to that one.”
“But it’s one of the great forgotten rock albums of this century!”
Thus I am folding the whole AtoZ of forgotten albums back into itself by writing about an album that I myself had not discovered until recently. The whole point of this series of articles was about encouraging people to investigate albums that they had either forgotten or otherwise ignored, so why shouldn’t I do that myself as part of the exercise?
Songs for the Deaf is one of those albums that sounds oddly familiar, even if it’s the first time you’ve heard it, especially if you’re partial to the commercial side of the hard rock / heavy metal axis. It’s not derivative though, no, it occupies very much its own space and time and sonic landscape. It’s the first rock album I’ve heard in years where the bass guitar gives the songs their accessible foundation and underpins everything else. This is particularly notable on “The Sky Is Fallin'”, perhaps the albums most commercial moment, with it’s melodic chorus. This is contrasted with the short sharp scream-rock burst of “Six Shooter” and the driving propulsive rock of “Hanging Tree”.
While so much of what passed for heavy rock music in the first few years of the new millennium was the rancid hybrid that was nu-metal, Queens of the Stone Age presented a more mature and less hard-of-thinking alternative. While still being recognisably a hard rock band, they exuded a cool that nu-metal just didn’t have, without over complicating things by going the math-rock route either. No, this was a hard rock album in the tradition of great era-defining rock classics of decades past. Or it would have defined the era if more people had been listening. I know I wasn’t, and listening to it now, I really should have been.
If you’re a fan of rock music, be it classic rock, or one of the confusing myriad of rock genres that have sprung up over the last 25 years or so, then chances are you’ll find something to admire on Songs for the Deaf. It’s one of those rock albums that has a broad appeal, but somehow inexplicably slipped past unnoticed by music fans like me. It has anthems, it nods towards stoner rock and alternative rock, yet it never wavers in its sense of purpose of being a dynamic and well paced hard rock album. When I started this series of articles, I always knew that some letters of the alphabet would be much easier to represent than others, but I couldn’t have guessed that it would lead me to discovering an album which had previously escaped my notice. However, thanks to a prompt from a random bloke I’d never met before going out of his way to make a Sheffield lad feel comfortable in far flung Hemel Hempstead, and Songs for the Deaf being a genuinely great album, that’s exactly what has happened.