Likewise, the album isn’t afraid to mix and match seemingly disparate tones and personalities in ways that showcase both significant advancement from QOTSA’s debut, and a defiance of the tropes their more popular peers were embodying.
“We wanted to… [have] a lot of dynamic range. We wanted it set up in this band so we could play anything. If anyone has a good song, regardless of style, we should be able to play it,” Josh told The Fade in 2001. Sure, other rock bands would feature, say, hostile electric songs alongside heartfelt soft ones; however, few, if any, dared to disseminate such triumphantly controversial lawlessness and sleekly soothing odes into a wide-ranging array of forms (such as metal with equal parts folk, blues and acid rock). In that same Spin discussion, Josh admits, “I’ve always had a sick sense of humour and I’ve always wanted that to permeate the music.” That perspective is felt clearly throughout Rated R, too, defying the self-serious nature that many rock groups conveyed back then.
Take, for example, opener Feel Good Hit Of The Summer, a razor-sharp, arid, and morally ambiguous party anthem whose title and repetitiously drug-fuelled lyrics initially drew ire from several radio stations and retailers. Later, Auto Pilot and Better Living Through Chemistry are strikingly leisurely, trippy, and seductive as they continue the theme of substance abuse with lines like, 'Saw you lying there on the marble slab / It’d be the best trip that I ever had / Higher than a jet plane, pass it around,' and, 'The blue pill opens your eyes… a new religion’s prescribed,' respectively. Conversely, Quick And To The Pointless is wholly animalistic, which makes the stark switch to Lightning Song – a peacefully tribal acoustic precursor to Song For The Deaf’s Mosquito Song – even better. As for closer I Think I Lost My Headache, its title ties back to Tension Headache while housing more innovations in its irregular rhythms and carnivalistic concluding horns.
Clearly, QOTSA created something special, as Rated R was a commercial and critical hit. It rose to #16 on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers album chart, and its first single, The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret (a perfect merger between radio-friendly invitingness and characteristic mystique), quickly became their biggest song.
Over two decades later, Rated R remains a captivatingly transitional statement that helped bring desert rock – with all of its multifaceted aesthetics and risqué exuberances – into the limelight. It harkened back to Josh Homme’s musical history while paving the way for where QOTSA would go next, and it dared to prove that a rock band can sell a lot without selling out.
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