In the confused wasteland of the early aughts, when Nickelback, Fall Out Boy and The Fray reigned supreme, some important rock was quietly forged. One of the most overlooked records of this period was Queens of the Stone Age’s Lullabies to Paralyze. Though band founder Josh Homme has referred to the Lullabies era as QOTSA’s lowest, it is a record worth a second look, and a third and a five hundredth. Haunting and hard-hitting, it is a collection of highly radio-unfriendly songs that will glue themselves to the deepest parts of your cerebellum.
Now in the midst of a more banjo-infested American rock cycle, someone across the Atlantic has taken that second look at Lullabies. With Homme’s blessing, French producer/songwriter/guitarist Olivier Libaux has created an unusual tribute album, called simply Uncovered Queens of the Stone Age. Featuring a different female singer for each track, Libaux’s carefully curated mix of QOTSA songs (with a heavy emphasis on Lullabies) is utterly creeptastic – and quite lovely. Though several of the singers have more notable careers overseas, American audiences may recognize contributions from the Bird & the Bee’s Inara George, Morcheeba’s Skye, Clare Manchon of Clare & the Reasons and the ever-enchanting Katharine Whalen of the Squirrel Nut Zippers.
Each track offers a unique take on its source material, but under Libaux’s guidance, the album manages to have a cohesive feel; though the gritty masculinity that most QOTSA songs are dripping with is entirely absent. Songs like “Burn the Witch” (Clare Manchon’s feature track) trade out thudding basslines for buoyant guitar and growling vocals for cooing ones. What it loses in the bottom end it gains in poignancy: Homme’s lyrics & melodies have always been spooky, and Libaux’s softer take underlines this feeling. Standout moments include the Belle and Sebastian-like “In My Head,” featuring Susan Dillane, “No One Knows” turned Bossa Nova (featuring Inara George), and the playful, spacey take on once-punky “Medication” (featuring Katharine Whalen). Altogether, Uncovered is a worthwhile experiment; putting a marvelous amalgam of songcraft under a new sort of spotlight.