It can’t be too difficult to get your kicks when you’re a rock star. You can drive a very expensive and very shiny car, very fast. You can buy the fanciest wine in Waitrose, pour one small glass and leave the rest of the bottle to go funny without the cork in and not feel guilty. You can watch Bake Off from velvet seats in the cinema room in your swanky house and then order the winner to come over and cook you cronuts until you explode. Anything is possible.
But such a life of unfathomable excess will occasionally lose its shimmer. Sometimes all a rock star wants to do is to hang out with some mates, smash a few shots of Mezcal and get down to what made them happy in the first place – jamming the hell out and making music just for fun. This, at any rate, is Joshua Homme of Queens of The Stone Age’s theory. Since 1997 he’s been involved in rounding up his pals and other itinerant musos at Rancho De La Luna, a tiny studio on the dusty back roads of Joshua Tree, California, and adding to the ever-evolving Desert Sessions collective and their presumably infinite so-called ‘mixtape odyssey’.
The first few releases involved the kind of names you’d expect – those associated with the 1990s Palm Desert sound and Homme’s former stoner metal band Kyuss. Dudes with beards as big as their riffs and who could beat you at pool with one hand and simultaneously clean up a bar fight with the other. Guys like Mark Lanegan, Eagles of Death Metal’s Jesse Hughes, Brant Bjork, Dave Catching and Nick Oliveri, not to mention one memorable turn from PJ Harvey, who sang the gloriously sultry ‘I Wanna Make It Wit Chu’ on the last Desert Sessions release back in 2003, a song Queens of the Stone Age realised was so outrageously good that they popped it on 2007’s ‘Era Vulgaris’ to give it the attention it deserved.
But a lot has changed in the 16 years since the last Desert Sessions album; not least the players. Aside from Homme, the usual suspects have been replaced and instead we have something resembling a rather more mainstream cast, with ZZ Top’s Billy F. Gibbons opening the eight-track record by crooning about the joys of a functionally dysfunctional relationship over alternating crunchy funk and smooth blues of ‘Move Together’. If you’ve been missing Royal Blood and can’t wait another second for their third album, then there’s a one-minute-and-45 second-long treat for you in the shape of the rattling glam-punk missile ‘Crucifire’ which is fronted by a terribly excited Mike Kerr – an excitement which is understandable when you realise that he’s basically living out his lifelong dream of joining Queens Of The Stone Age.
Homme himself fronts the thrusting ‘Noses In Roses Forever’ as well as the mournful ‘Easier Said Than Done’, during which he does his best David Bowie falsetto. But the biggest name here is also possibly the most unlikely, especially considering past Desert Sessions. Yep, that’s Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears, a longtime pal of Homme’s, joining in for ‘Something You Can’t See’. The album’s standout track, it slinks along like the floatiest moments of Tame Impala, all the while paying its respects to Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac’s chicest 1970s shakedowns.
It was possibly more amusing to record than to listen to is the Scandi-pop comedy tune ‘Chic Tweetz’, which sees comedian Matt Berry repaying Homme the favour after his appearance on the TV comedy Toast of London a couple of years back (it also features also a mysterious vocalist named Töôrnst Hülpft whom Reddit reckons is Dave Grohl, though Josh Homme insists it’s a total stranger).
Something that hasn’t changed is the fact that female vocalists remain few and far between in the mythology of ‘Desert Sessions’. There’s only one song here fronted by a woman, but relative unknown Libby Grace makes a bold, memorable debut on moody country ballad ‘If You Run;. Not only does it make us believe this isn’t the last time we’ll hear her warmly gothic twang, but suggests that the addition of more powerful female voices could make for some future Desert Sessions to really remember.
Overall, there’s enough rock star swagger here to live vicariously through, and the sense that the Joshua Tree party will ride again for years to come. So crack open that fancy bottle and let your hair down.