Queens of the Stone Age “…Like Clockwork” Review
Back from the dead and raw as ever
After a hiatus lasting over two years (and nearly six years without a new record), Queens of the Stone Age are set to release their sixth major record label album, “…Like Clockwork.”
Whenever QOTSA release a record, it is an event that seems to draw all of the elitists, hipsters, prog-rockers and just about anyone else who appreciates a good record out of the woodwork to listen to a spastic approach to songwriting. With “…Like Clockwork,” things are a little different this time around — QOTSA have gotten much more focused and deliberate.
As usual, lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Josh Homme is the catalyst in the production of the record (Homme usually produces QOTSA’s records). “…Like Clockwork” is somewhat of a synergetic effort with a guest appearance list of over a dozen (anyone who knows Queens knows that no matter how many guest appearances there are, Homme is and always will be the driving force in the writing/recording process). Some of these appearances are the usual collaborators and others are eyebrow-raising to say the least (Sir Elton John, former QOTSA bass player Nick Oliveri returning for a couple of tracks, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame, rock legend Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and Nirvana playing percussion on a bulk of the tracks, Mark Lanegan, who was also a former bandmate of Homme’s from the Screaming Trees days just to name a few).
QOTSA almost always record in the High Desert in Southern California (where Homme also grew up). Now, it’s a matter of debate, but after years of listening to this band, I have ascertained that recording there gives their records a specific sound (or even a certain aura). It’s a strange place. It’s desolate and opinions from those familiar with it range from spiritual to sinister. Homme put it well in an interview from Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain when he described how he felt about his home: “There’s something that’s just overpowering. It’s just grander than you,” Homme said. “You spend some time out here with the emptiness, the wind blowing, the stopping for the sunset; without being sappy about it — god, that’s beautiful.” This lends to the notion that the environment that Homme chooses to record in gives way to a sound that has unequivocally become his own.
Beyond some new and familiar names appearing on the album, “…Like Clockwork” came to fruition after Homme endured some serious trials and tribulations in his life (during a knee surgery in 2010, he died on the operating table due to asphyxiation complications and was eventually resuscitated. After the surgery, he was forced into three months of bed rest).
In 2011, in an attempt to manufacture inspiration, Homme embarked on a re-release tour in which he mainly played songs from QOTSA’s first album, “Rated R.” "I was hoping that playing the first record would really inspire me and make me fall in love with music again. But I think I was just lost, looking for something in the dark. In that dark, I found ‘...Like Clockwork’."
“…Like Clockwork” opens up with an engaging track that demands attention while setting the tone and appropriately exemplifying the album as a whole (“Keep Your Eyes Peeled”). The slow, bass-heavy song (featuring Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters on vocals) also reflects the strange couple of years Homme has gone through to write a song like this. As for the lyrics, they are abstract and literal all at once (I think Homme is wearing the heart on the sleeve in this one. The song is just so emotionally eerie/ominous). “If life is but a dream, wake me up.”
The second track, “I Sat by the Ocean,” is faster in tempo and is centered on the signature, larger-than-life power chord riffs and raging lead guitar that go together oh so well (with Homme’s vocals slipping back and forth from his regular register to his well-known and masterful falsetto).
“The Vampyre of Time and Memory” starts with a spacey sample that carries into a piano/vocal intro mixed with a bullish synth sound to add emphasis through contrast. From there, the bass/drums/guitar come in and the album returns back to the slow, laid-back side of QOTSA. Homme has always been known for his great lyrics and this song is no exception. “The illusion that you feel… is real.”
“If I Had a Tail” also sees a return of a familiar QOTSA style in which Homme is neither dark nor dreary. It’s almost a disorderly or boisterous perspective that dwells within the lyrics and the verse’s overall racing rhythm (not to mention former bass player Nick Oliveri on backup vocals). Additionally, it was a perfect choice to have Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys do guest vocals on this one, as it is right up his alley of songwriting. (I think it is worth noting that Homme also produced Arctic Monkeys third major release: “Humbug”).
“My God is the Sun” is the first single off “…Like Clockwork.” It starts off with dueling guitars and pounding drums that take it to a short but intense verse that culminates in a fast-paced and intense chorus. The fact that Homme chose this song as a single may surprise some, but I honestly think it falls right in line with what QOTSA are all about (instead of giving in to the demands of the music industry and writing a bubble-gum, cookie-cutter song for the radio, Homme would much rather write a song that is straight rock n’roll). “Healing, like fire from above. Kneeling, my god is the sun.”
“Kalopsia” is the first track to feature the guest appearance of Trent Renzor (Nine Inch Nails) on the production side of things. It starts off with a subdued, dreamy-sounding verse that kicks into a powerful chorus that provides a world-apart disparity. All in all, it’s a good song and the collaboration took it to different places thanks to Reznor’s outside-of-the-box methods as a producer.
“Fairweather Friends” also has Reznor as a collaborator, but with an additional (who-saw-it-coming?) appearance by music legend, Sir Elton John on piano/vocals. During the production of the record, Homme received a surprising phone call from John saying that he needed an “actual queen” on the album. This odd pairing of collaborators working on a QOTSA song is something I simply would’ve never expected. It’s strange to hear such a clash of musical styles going on during this song, but the end result is a unique sound that can’t be recreated with only Homme (and the aforementioned unorthodox production methods of Reznor coupled with the untouchable musical abilities of Sir Elton lift the song to immeasurable heights). “Gossip, drugs, and snakes. They’re just our fairweather friends.”
“Smooth Sailing” returns back to that QOTSA raucous style that is prevalent throughout the album (and this particular one stands alone with its bouncy rhythm worthy of any dance floor). Homme uses his trademark falsetto-voice again during the chorus… and the verses, well; they are filled with existentialism-oriented, anti-establishment lyrics spouted one after the other with an almost morbid sense of humor (with frenzied guitar riffs to drive home the point). “I blow my load over the status quo.”
I feel that the next track, “I Appear Missing,” is the gem on this album. Slow and heavy with hard-hitting lyrics that I assume speak to Homme’s experience with death back in 2010 (referenced earlier in the article). Both the verse and the chorus sound colossally epic and when that face-melting solo comes in, it’s hard not to want to headbang. I wanted to list another lyric under the paragraph here, but I liked the lyrics so much that I couldn’t pick just one from this amazing song — words sang with pure conviction and sentiment that hit close to home for anyone that has experienced the perplexing nature of death.
The closing title track, “…Like Clockwork” is more somber in nature. It starts with a couple of piano chords and Homme once again using his falsetto vocals to further the solemn message of the song. The instrumental polyphony begins with a mixture of piano/acoustic guitar that keep the album moving to its curtain call. The song enters sky-high mode when the soloing lead guitar/bass/percussion are adjoined with the already-present, mellow piano/acoustic guitar melodies. It is a suitable, heartfelt ending for a profound record that Homme obviously put everything he had into. “Holding on too long is just a fear of letting go”
“…Like Clockwork” is a ten-track beast of an album with polished concepts and first-rate production — truly some of the best work I’ve heard out of QOTSA. As a fan, observer and writer, I feel privileged to be in a position to analyze and dissect from the masterful start to the towering finish. I half-expected a slump and I didn’t find one at all. In my opinion, this record trumps both “Era Vulgaris” and “Lullabies to Paralyze” (and both of those are solid albums). There are absolutely no fillers — every single track is worth a listen. It easily gets five stars from me — I would give it more if I could. After immersing myself in this record, all I have to say is this: welcome back, QOTSA.