Collaboration has always come second-nature to Joshua Homme. Be it Them Crooked Vultures, Eagles of Death Metal, Arctic Monkeys, or Iggy Pop, there never appears to be a time where Homme isn’t taking the time to work with other artists outside of his Queens of the Stone Age universe. Of all these projects, the one that Homme seems to enjoy the most is the Desert Sessions, an ever-revolving collective of talented artists who get together at the Rancho De La Luna studio in Joshua Tree in an escape from their usual music projects. Offering up an always stacked lineup of collaborators, Desert Sessions Volumes 11 & 12 (called Arrivederci Despair and Tightwads & Nitwits & Critics & Heels, respectively) has no shortage of big-name talent, including ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears, Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr, and Les Claypool. Sadly, despite the immense talent at hand, Volumes 11 & 12 lack the improvisational and adventurous feel of previous iterations.
Whereas the last edition of the Desert Sessions had songs that the collaborators were proud to showcase on forthcoming material (including future Queens of the Stone Age songs “Make It Wit Chu” and “In My Head”) and lasting singles (PJ Harvey and Josh Homme’s duet “Crawl Home”), this collection of songs doesn’t contain any tracks that we’ll be revisiting in years to come, with the possible exception of the slick “Noses in Roses Forever”. Despite the many familiar artists who came out to Joshua Tree for the sessions, the most memorable performance on the album goes to the relatively unknown newcomer Libby Grace on the country-blues Volume 11 closer “If You Run”. With clever lyrics and a unique voice, “If You Run” brings you back to a time when country music was actually good and makes you wonder what a collaboration between Kacey Musgraves and Joshua Homme could sound like.
Admittedly, when I heard that Billy Gibbons was taking part in the new Desert Sessions I salivated at the thought of a dirty no holds-barred greasy collaboration with Homme. Although the song does get slightly interesting at the end, it feels relatively soulless and lacks the bite that this collaboration would have had had it appeared on say 1998’s Volume 4: Hard Walls and Little Trips. When the Sessions players aim for foolish fun they sadly stumble and fall quite hard on “Chic Tweetz” (featuring Töôrnst Hülpft and Matt Berry). If this release of Desert Sessions ran longer it would be amusing to have thrown in “Chic Tweetz” as a joke, but this collection is pretty thin as it is, and this song comes off more as a total waste of time.
Back in 2007, Homme said, “The Desert Sessions are gonna go on forever. There’s no reason to stop them”, and although we’ve had to wait sixteen years for a new collection of songs, Homme has kept his word. Unfortunately, these new Sessions don’t hold the same spur of the moment fun that previous iterations have had. Few of these songs are memorable, but the album does have a couple of bright spots, namely “If You Run” and “Noses in Roses Forever”. At the very least, we can thank these Desert Sessions for introducing Libby Grace, who we can hopefully hear more from in the future.
review by Stewart Wiseman