Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
by Mike Doub (Psychology), published June 7th 2013
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
People trying to qualify Queens of the Stone Age like the term “stoner-rock,” but frontman Josh Homme prefers to label his brand of broken blues as desert music. Whether or not he’s right, his fixation with that barren stretch of land is undeniable. The first in a series of five videos that preceded the band’s new album (and its first in six years) …Like Clockwork was a mummified man floating through an arid desert. On Queens’ 2002 hard rock opus Songs for the Deaf, the lyrical concept was a driver trucking through the desert all night long listening to radio. Homme even has a 10-volume ongoing project called The Desert Sessions. In practice, this desert-love takes shape in repetitious, chugging riffs, wailing guitar leads and songs that click when played in the warmth of the sun.
…Like Clockwork doesn’t display much of a climate shift. The double-guitar assault that opens first single “My God is the Sun” is cut from the same cloth as previous Queens of the Stone Age barn-burners. On opening track “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” menacing bass and squalling guitar recall the plodding groove of Rated R’s “I Think I Lost My Headache.” Never one to shy away from the overtly sexual, Homme’s lyrical smooth talk continues unabated on Clockwork. The narrator on the fantastic “If I Had a Tail” sings about wanting to bite, lick, and suck (fill in the dots yourself) over a merciless mid-tempo jam that includes Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys and former band member Nick Oliveri on group vocals. “Smooth Sailing,” which musically recalls the schizophrenic glee of previous album Era Vulgaris, has instantly quotable lines like “I blow my load over the status quo.” These are the foundations on which great Queens of the Stone Age albums are made.
What sets Clockwork apart is its frequent sense of melancholy. In the six year gap between albums, Homme died (actually died) on the operating table during a botched knee surgery, and moments on Clockwork suggest someone shaken by their brush with death. On the mournful title track Homme notes that, unlike himself, “not everything that goes around comes back around.” Heartbreak comes up too, with one broken-hearted lover bemoaning his loneliness (“The Vampyre of Time and Memory”) and another drinking a potion to forget his ex (“I Sat by the Ocean”). Occasionally the bummer lyrics bleed into the music, and Queens of the Stone Age’s new album is their first to feature piano-led tracks, as on “Vampyre” and “…Like Clockwork.”
Clockwork’s pre-release campaign also put emphasis on promoting its guest stars, and there sure are a lot of them here. In addition to Turner and Oliveri, Jake Sheers (Scissor Sisters), Dave Grohl (Nirvana drummer and fighter of foo), Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) and Elton flipping John all make appearances. Grohl and Queens are a great power couple (Greens?) and Grohl’s sly shuffle on “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” will make fans long for his days in the band circa-Songs for the Deaf. Although outside of Reznor’s howl in the murky “Kalopsia” and John tickling the ivories on rock n’ roll posse track “Fairweather Friends,” you’ll be hard-pressed to pick out the guests in the crowd.
That’s actually for the better. The musicians on previous team-ups are far from center stage ($50 to anyone who can spot Strokes singer Julian Casablancas on Era Vulgaris’ “Sick, Sick, Sick”). And at their best, Queens of the Stone Age sound like a band, not a swirling mass of musical talent. They do this on Clockwork with gusto: it’s telling that the album’s best track, the six-minute epic “I Appear Missing,” is without guests and features the core band members playing their hearts out. In 2013, Homme is the only musician to have stayed with the band for its duration, a duration that’s seen previous members exit via overdose and FBI arrest. “I survived, hooray,” Homme sarcastically mutters at one point on Clockwork. Fans have every reason to celebrate; with their return, Queens of the Stone Age have brought with them their best album in over a decade.
Recommended Tracks: I Appear Missing, If I Had a Tail, Smooth Sailing