Though it was hailed as a hard-rock masterpiece at the time of its 2000 release, Queens Of The Stone Age's major-label debut Rated R was a fairly timid step back from its less polished self-titled predecessor. Trading in some of the band's walloping guitar thunder (courtesy of Josh Homme, who played with current bandmate Nick Oliveri in the desert-metal titan Kyuss) for a smoother feel and some Soundgarden-esque would-be hits, Rated R was more potent in theory than in reality. Enter Songs For The Deaf, which effectively splits the difference, finding an intricate balance between whomping power and poppier, more exploratory terrain. The strategy serves Queens Of The Stone Age well: Though its momentum is slowed by an aggravating series of fake radio-station IDs (performed by such celebrity DJs as Twiggy Ramirez and Amen's Casey Chaos), Songs For The Deaf never seems as smirky or mercenary as Rated R did in its weakest moments. Musically and vocally, the band sounds tighter and more accomplished than ever, thanks in part to the arrival of ringers like Mark Lanegan, Dean Ween, and especially Dave Grohl, who throughout the album further cements his place among rock's great drummers. "No One Knows" and "First It Giveth" are among Queens Of The Stone Age's most commercially viable songs, but they're hooky without resembling the work of anyone other than the band that spawned them. Songs For The Deaf even has its poignant moments: How many balls-out hard-rock albums would include a line like "I want something good to die for / to make it beautiful to live" (from "Go With The Flow")? The album is so strong that it casts Rated R in a new light, transforming it from a watering-down to a step in a deeper, wiser direction.