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Queens of the Stone Age 

Era Vulgaris (Interscope)

To fans, Queens of the Stone Age can do no wrong, and mastermind Josh Homme is a visionary on par with Thom Yorke. This cult exists because Homme comes off as a dude who could be hanging on your tattered couch, packing the bong, and quoting Fletch. Yet he's a witty intellectual, whereas most stoner-metal dropouts are one or two hairs shy of bar-rock Neanderthal. Just listen to his jams: Homme sprinkles them with sharp, postmodern references to new wave, vintage Cream, and even obscuro shit like krautrock. And that's QOTSA's problem. Homme has been riding this shtick since 2000's Rated R, which isn't nearly as good as the band's debut -- the last time Homme actually challenged himself.

Era Vulgaris doesn't show Homme altering his course. Stuttering robo-fits like "I'm a Designer" and "Misfit Love" are basically energy-drink commercials still ripping off The Matrix. Things do perk up in the second half, but in a train wreck kind of way. Sounding listless and drained of ideas, the band starts trying anything, even blue-eyed soul on "Make It Wit Chu" (a track that has appeared elsewhere). Of course, that could just be Homme playing nod/wink games, but fuck the stoner jokes after seven years. Somebody give this dude a Boris CD.

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