Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork (2013)

There are few bands and groups worth waiting for when they go on ‘hiatus’. Usually this pause in their output is caused by internal petty warring or members looking to branch out with other musical ventures, which are meant to be welcomed with equal appraisal as a release from the band. This has been the case for Queens of the Stone Age, as 2007’s Era Vulgaris didn’t leave us in a worthy state of wait, and promises of new work slowly came to fruition then fizzled out. Band members got fired, Them Crooked Vultures wasn’t as good an album as we were led to believe, and the new QOTSA album was eternally postponed with re-releases of past work put out to taunt us evermore. We were waiting …Like Clockwork.

So here it is: the new QOTSA album, number six in their catalogue, …Like Clockwork. It may be the album we have desired all this time. Delivered equally with baritone-ringing crunchy riff-age and stomping beats with saucy lyrics sung in smoky falsetto, the wait was worth it. Josh Homme, head honcho of QOTSA’s reign, has always been a monster of great songwriting and the songs on here are testament to his design. The album contains many guests and surprises, feeling more like a bunch of buddies making music for the sake of enjoyment, which adds to the flavour of this record. The inimitable nice guy of rock Dave Grohl returns for tub-thumping duties, and we are all very much thankful for this. Original drummer Joey Castillo shares drums for half of the record, and original bassist Nick Oliveri and guitarist Mark Lanegan make guest appearances, giving it a real friends ‘n’ family vibe. Rounding up the roster of famous friends include Trent Reznor of NIN, Brody Dalle of The Distillers (and Homme’s wife), and none other than Sir Elton John on backing vocals. A truly madcap and well-blended cocktail of a rocker-verse dream record.

Plenty of the tracks contain the QOTSA groove; a tasty guitar tone with bass-heavy low-end riff-age and kicking muted drums. Wailing solos appear now and then, and the inclusion of strings and piano in some pieces add to a greater timbre and sound that isn’t usually found on modern records. Creating a psychedelic sonic landscape without becoming too self-indulgent is rare, but this album does it. Homme also took on production duties with the other band members, keeping everything soaked in tonality and gentle reverb on his vocals. An interesting part in the record is each track has its own unique intro and/or outro sound, usually 1-2 seconds of non-descript instrumentation, and the outros are usually a comedown from the track as the vocals trail off into hissing and drones. The opener ‘Keep Your Eyes Peeled’ has a swelling build-up of harmonium sound into a pulsing groove. Several of the tracks on the record are in a waltz time (3/4) adding to the swing of Homme’s riffs and lyrics. The album has a feeling of a dark waltz, or perhaps a somewhat inappropriate funeral march. There is something restrained about the smooth verses in the songs and the faster louder choruses that add a real depth to the record, the sombre pace of the music contrasting with the gritty, lascivious lyrics. An air of maritime comes through in the lyrics, often mentioning the sea, drowning and ships coming in, two tracks being names ‘I sat by the ocean’ and ‘Smooth Sailing’. There are too many avenues of interpretation here, so make up your own minds.

Stand out tracks include ‘The Vampyre of Time and Memory’, with a Kraftwerkian synth and intimate piano verses; ‘Kalopsia’, a delusional, ever-changing track throughout, it lashes out at itself and keeps you hypnotised; ‘Fairweather Friends’ with guest vocals aplenty (Trent, Brody, Elton) is good bluesy fun; ‘If I had a Tail’ and ‘I Sat by the Ocean’ definitely have a great QOTSA sound and would be suitable for single release after the first output, ‘My God is the Sun’.

Staying true to their sound and standing at the helm of production duties add a real sense of completion and consistency to the record. Having Dave Grohl on drums certainly doesn’t hurt, and bringing in fellow musicians to guest keeps things interesting. The use of multi-instrumentation on the record adds tonal flavours to the vibe, and QOTSA have always kept things interesting. The stoner rock sound with sinful lyrics may be present at all times, but the music twists and turns like a python in heat. The continuation of their music is inevitable, and we hope that Homme doesn’t stick to the closing lines of the eponymous finale: ‘One thing that is clear, it’s all downhill from here’.

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