Much has changed for Josh Homme since Queens of the Stone Age’s last album in 2007. In the 6 years since we last heard from the desert rocker, his wife gave birth to his first son, he parted ways with long-time friend and musical partner Joey Castillo, and he nearly died while undergoing knee surgery. Life experiences such as these are what shape an individual in one’s continuous maturation, and this new found maturity is ever-present on their sixth studio album …Like Clockwork.
Queens of the Stone Age have always been known to promote different guests and lineup changes from album to album, and …Like Clockwork is no different in that respect. Their first album on Matador Records is also the first studio album with former touring musicians Michael Shuman (bass) and Dean Fertita (keyboard/guitar) becoming full-time band members. The album features three different drummers, including former The Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore, who became the newest permanent member of the band during the making of the album. Alongside these musical newcomers are a string of old Queens of the Stone Age friends, including Songs for the Deaf alumni Dave Grohl (who drums on 6 of the album’s 10 songs), Nick Oliveri, Mark Lanegan, and Alain Johannes. Other Homme pals to make the cut include Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Jake Shears (Scissor Sisters), Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys), singer-songwriter and wife Brody Dalle, and Sir Elton John.
The album opens with the sound of shattering glass before a haunting drum (one of Castillo’s last contributions to the band) and guitar intro commence “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”. This dark song keeps the listener anticipating something even more dangerous hiding behind the corner and sets a sombre mood for the album. Josh Homme has trademarked the ability of making it cool to sound creepy, and his croon is supported here by backing vocals from Scissor Sister Jake Shears.
Rising from the fear-inducing first track, “I Sat By The Ocean” soars with an uplifting slide guitar introduction by Homme. The song howls with traditional Queens of the Stone Age lyrics that manage to ride the line between macho-tough and emotional tear jerker, such as opening lines “I sat by the ocean and drank a potion baby to erase you. Face down in the boulevard, yet I couldn’t face you”. “I Sat By The Ocean” features the first of many addictive hooks on the album and has the potential to be an upcoming single.
“The Vampyre of Time and Memory” begins with quiet synths and keys leading into a song that boasts the quietest and most introspective moments in the Queens of the Stone Age catalogue, stressing lines such as “Who are you to me? Who am I supposed to be? Not exactly sure anymore”. This is also Dave Grohl’s debut track on the album and his first Queens of the Stone Age cameo since the incredible Songs for the Deaf. Josh Homme has discovered a new-found maturity in his lyrics, and where previous Queens of the Stone Age albums’ lyrics were often coy, sleazy, and entertaining; here Homme digs deep into the thoughts that trouble him late at night.
The first of two guest-heavy tracks on the album is “If I Had A Tail”, spotlighting vocals from Alex Turner, Mark Lanegan, and Nick Oliveri. The song announces its presence with a crunchy guitar intro courtesy of Homme and Turner, and a return to the cocky/sleazy lyrics of old. Here Grohl uses a shuffle drumming pattern similar to “Bandoliers” off of the Them Crooked Vultures album. The contribution of all three guest vocalists surfaces at the tail end of the song; the most audible being that of the long missed man who narrates your nightmares, Nick Oliveri, whose hissing leads perfectly into “My God Is The Sun”.
The first single off the album, “My God Is The Sun” boasts a killer opening guitar riff and a very interesting shift of time signature made possible by the insane drumming of Dave Grohl. With a guitar line that will stay in your head for days, “My God Is The Sun” can stand proudly next to the most classic of singles in the Queens of the Stone Age catalogue.
“Kalopsia” starts off with the evil robot sounds of a Nine Inch Nails number, and finishes with a brief guest vocal spot from Trent Reznor. In between the Reznor sections is one of the tenderest ballads that Homme has ever put together, beautifully co-written by Alex Turner. As far as we know, this track is most likely the last Queens of the Stone Age song to feature Joey Castillo on drums, putting an end to a decade-spanning era in the band’s history.
Advertising as varied a guest list as a Kanye West album, “Fairweather Friends” puts together the unlikely all-star lineup of Alex Turner, Trent Reznor, Homme’s wife Brody Dalle, Alain Johannes, Dave Grohl, Nick Oliveri, Mark Lanegan, and the one and only Sir Elton John. Rather than showcasing clear solo inputs from these talented musicians, all of their parts blend impeccably together to the extent that it is nearly impossible to make out their different contributions. Likely …Like Clockwork’s next single, it is by far the most radio-friendly track on the album, and maybe one of the band’s all-time best.
“Smooth Sailing” and “I Appear Missing” unfortunately are a letdown after the flawless “Fairweather Friends”, with the former resembling a Them Crooked Vultures outtake and the latter stretching beyond its expiry date at six minutes in length. Instead, Homme saves his best vocals and lyrics for the last song on the album, “…Like Clockwork”. “I’m swimming in the light, chasing down the moon, deeper in the water, the more I long for you” Homme yearns on this sensational piano-led ballad. Josh Homme would have been made fun of if this song was on Rated R, but here he sets his bravado aside to display the man he’s grown up to be, with heartfelt lyrics that some may have never expected him to be capable of.
…Like Clockwork is everything Queens of the Stone Age fans could have asked for. The musicianship is insane. The lyrics are at times loose and entertaining, and other times are heartfelt and emotional. It is hard to rank the Queens of the Stone Age albums as they have put together several great ones, but …Like Clockwork is easily their most complete and focused project since Rated R. Not only is …Like Clockwork one of the band’s career-best, but it may very well be the greatest rock record you will hear in 2013.