Following the Palm Desert outfit's self-titled debut on Loosegroove, Rated R expands upon the original power trio's sunbaked formula with bigger production on a bigger label -- not to mention guest cameos from Rob Halford (Judas Priest/Fight) and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees); it also incorporates brass, vibes, and lap steel arrangements, plus the occasional handclap track. But don't fret, dime baggers: All of the primal fuzz and low-end rumble you've come to expect from the Queens still reigns supreme. Like a generator jam at a Burning Man festival, the royal dopers don't exactly reinvent the wheel of drone-rhythm rock. Instead they celebrate experimentation, resisting the urge to headbang by numbers. "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" sounds like urban gumshoe Sam Spade riffin' his way through a parched canyon while the buzzards circle; "Leg of Lamb" sustains a trancelike mood while driving on the rims of a single scraggly chord.
Through fastidious studio trickery, the poppy "Auto Pilot" mutates from seismic ripple to harmonized lullaby -- including the distant thunder of a jet engine -- before your very ears. And a conga-laced "Better Living Through Chemistry" (with enough euphoria to stretch a Ziploc) fades out in midanthem, oddly enough; when it finally roars back into focus, the song's artfulness far outscales its heaviness, man, and offers some gentle advice: Never come between a dude and his stash.
On the down side, Homme's Mr. Sensitive vocals will never match the powerful wailing of Kyuss piper John Garcia -- not that they have to -- but J.H. could sure stand some whiskeyfyin' to complement the music's gutsiness. Bassist Nick Oliveri can flat out screeeeeam though, as evidenced by brasher tracks like "Tension Head" and especially "Quick and to the Pointless," where he approximates a bare-assed Steven Tyler sitting on a smoking waffle iron. Lyrically it's just as well. With the dream logic of scattered lines like "I'd get up/If I knew I fell" and "Paul's dad is warped and bubbling/Oh well," Homme's songwriting rarely relies on operatics, let alone poignancy. It vacillates between something almost rated NC-17 (adult situations, violence, nudity, blind faith) and an angry fix.
It's just the summer drive-in you might've sneaked into as a high schooler, gasping for air in the trunk between a cooler of Pabst and a few duct-taped lawn chairs. Bong voyage.