Album Review - Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork (June 4, 2013 on Matador Records).
When one listens to a Queens of the Stone Age record, one is transported to another place.
You could take that as my just being poetic, but their music legitimately creates a sense of literal, geographical setting. Perhaps even more so than Kyuss – singer/guitarist Josh Homme’s previous knuckle-dragging stoner metal band – QotSA’s music consistently evokes the sweaty, grimy feel of Homme’s native land, the California desert region. For Vancouverites, you might say the music sucks the moisture out of the air and blasts you with savage heat – a rather pleasant hallucination.
First, a bit of background. 2013’s …Like Clockwork is QOTSA’s first record in six years, the last being 2007’s Era Vulgaris. That album was somewhat of a departure for the band. It would hardly be accurate to suggest that any of their previous four records played it safe. In accordance with Homme’s rough-and-tumble persona, their music has always had a nasty edge to it. It’s not hateful or violent in the same sense as a lot of punk rock or heavy metal; it just doesn’t care what you think. It does whatever the hell it wants.
Even still, Era Vulgaris was riskier. The song structures were more varied, the dynamics more extreme, and the textures more warped than ever before. The ‘journey’ aspect was at its strongest at that point in the band’s history. One could say that it was a fuller, less inhibited manifestation of the attitudes which underlie QotSA’s music.
Homme and company took a bit of a hiatus in 2009, working on various side projects and generally spending time away from being QotSA. Though there was definitely touring in the interim, recording for the follow-up to Era Vulgaris would wait until August of last year. So, what have we been waiting all this time for?
Immediately, the first track on …Like Clockwork, “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”, lands a haymaker to the ears of listeners with the sound of breaking glass and growling, de-tuned guitars. Though Homme faithfully sticks to his no-formula approach, listeners can readily point to this as “what Queens of the Stone Age sounds like”. It’s full of tension, it’s a little bit foreign, and it wants to hurt you… yet it loves you.
The best things are full of contradictions.
The band seems to have put their best foot forward here, and the following tracks do not necessarily have the same impact. Still, there are some bona fide standout tracks to be heard. “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” is a great example of dynamic building and aesthetic ‘journeying’, something at which QotSA really does excel, even if they aren’t always recognized for it. “Kalopsia” is similarly epic and theatrical. “My God Is the Sun” is a straight-ahead rocker, with the usual touches that make this band so compelling: dirty, driving bass guitar; guitar harmonies that somehow sound both exotic and familiar; and a rainbow of vocal colours, including Homme’s swaggering croon and eerie, falsetto choral textures.
“Smooth Sailing” is my personal favourite. If the blues were a car, this song drops a Hemi into it. It throws its weight around and makes its point with no hesitation. Everything about it says, “I’m here / What are you gonna do about it?”
But overall, how does …Like Clockwork compare to past releases? Is it amazing enough to justify the six-year gap between records?
Well, it depends on how you look at it. If it’s a matter of comparing side-by-side this record to its predecessor, one might say that little or no progression has taken place. They’re just working with the same elements, just arranging them in a different order.
But to put things in perspective, I’ll state this simple fact: it’s Queens of the Stone Age. They may not have raised their standards for creativity and variation, but let’s be honest – their standards are already higher than most of their peers. Breaking new ground isn’t the point; it’s about seeing all that you can do with what you’ve already got. And, at this point, this is a band that’s got plenty to work with. There is no hypocrisy or pretension in Homme’s words from “Smooth Sailing”: “I blow my load over the status quo.”
…Like Clockwork won’t convert anyone who isn’t already inclined to like QotSA, but for fans, this is one to keep on file. When you’re in a Queens of the Stone Age kind of mood, this will be just as good a candidate as any other in the catalogue.
Check out the …Like Clockwork mini-movie made up of five videos illustrated by Boneface and animated by Liam Brazier (“I Appear Missing”, “Kalopsia”, “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”, “If I Had A Tail” and “My God Is The Sun”):