‘River in the Road’ by Queens of the Stone Age
From the album Era Vulgaris (2007)
Continuing on the theme of dark songs for the winter, I’ve picked a deep cut from one of my all-time favourite bands, Queens of the Stone Age. But why, you might ask, an album cut from possibly their weakest album? I’ll admit that Era Vulgaris little impact on my musical journey through life; I was seventeen when it came out and far too enamoured with bands like Broken Social Scene and Stars (In Our Bedroom After the War came out a couple of months after Era Vulgaris and completely changed my life; soundtracking some unforgettable moments) to do anything but buy this album on its release day, listen to it a few times and pretty much let it fall by the wayside whilst still listening to Songs for the Deaf and Rated R on a weekly basis. These days, with QOTSA being one of my favourite bands, I binge on all of their albums regularly and have grown to love the black sheep that is Era Vulgaris, in particular the edgier side of the album. Tracks such as ‘Sick, Sick, Sick’, ‘Era Vulgaris’, ‘Suture Up Your Future’ and ‘River in the Road’ are spiky and angry, especially when put alongside tracks such as ‘Make It Wit Chu’, a very very fun dancey-dancey makin’ love song.
‘River in the Road’ picks up a beacon on a long history of desert rock songs that explore the dark side of the desert; the long drives, the dark nights, empty spaces and long drive. Songs such as Kyuss’ ‘Asteroid’, Masters of Reality’s ‘Third Man on the Moon’, and countless QOTSA tracks, for example ‘Go With the Flow’, ‘I Never Came’, ‘The Bronze’, ‘I Appear Missing’ and so on, exemplify this. One of the understated features of the track which subtlety allow it to stand out from the rest of the album is the Mark Lanegan harmony backing vocals. Lanegan is well known for his work with QOTSA, Screaming Trees and Soulsavers, amongst others, his raspy, cigarette smoke voice is instantly recognisable on Queens tracks such as ‘A Song for the Deaf’ and ‘In the Fade’, however his contribution to ‘River in the Road’ is powerful due to the fact that it isn’t obvious, he carries along Homme’s narrative and gives it a sinister undertone. The vocals, mixed with the layers upon layers of guitar tracks (Homme and Troy van Leeuwen’s ‘crazy delay’ guitar track) swirl around in the listener’s mind; ‘grab what slips your mind and what your memory can’t hold’.
I could go on for hours and hours describing the minutiae of the history of the Palm Desert scene, and acts associated with, or blended into Queens of the Stone Age but I think somebody already wrote a book about that so there goes my idea.