Album Review: Queens of the Stone Age – … Like Clockwork

1 Like ClockworkThis year, Queens of the Stone Age‘s self-titled debut turns 15. Such a thought may be hard to swallow at first, but consider the impact Josh Homme and his assorted cohorts have had on rock music in the past decade-and-a-half. Their influences certainly aren’t immeasurable, but QotSA have always been key players behind the resurgence of hard rock as commercially (and critically) palatable.

Homme and his Queens have always peddled hedonism in their music, from the rumbling erotica of their debut through to the sleazy sludge of 2007’s Era VulgarisHowever, while the group’s music has never dipped below entertaining, it’s perhaps undeniable that no album has gripped listeners as thoroughly as 2000’s electric Rated RPerhaps this is due to the fact that, along the way, such supercharged debauchery has become a little too detached from the pangs of reality. Rated R succeeded so brilliantly because, for all its headspinning bravura, the comedowns were always just around the corner: brutal, bitter reflections which let some much-needed light into the dingy caverns plumbed by the group.

To wit, consider 2005’s Lullabies To Paralyze and 2010’s side-project from Them Crooked Vultures. Both are undoubtedly fun listens, though exhausting in places, with such unbridled masculinity allowing with no space to breathe amongst all the riffery. Perhaps in response to such hefty records, a remarkable sense of restraint pervades … Like Clockwork. Weighing in at ten tracks and entirely devoid of filler, it’s a lean and instantaneous rock record, which plays to the band’s muscular strengths while spicing proceedings with enough intimacy to ensure an emotional relevance lingers behind the noise.

The album growls to life with the lumbering, heavy-headed Keep Your Eyes Peeled. As openers go, it’s a solid choice, if not brimming with the magnetism one would hope for in the wake of a six-year hiatus. Thankfully, the album doesn’t take long to find its pulse, and it soon flows seamlessly, following an organic pace which still offers variation. Homme himself is on fine form throughout, displaying an impressive range of vocal acrobatics which load … Like Clockwork with more character and panache than the average hard-rock opus. Yet what makes the album truly great is its expressive range. Homme has never sounded as honest or vulnerable as he does on … Like Clockwork‘s title track, in which the icon’s weary falsetto is accompanied by nothing but forlorn descants of piano for two minutes. Rest assured, despite the impressive cast list, this is Homme’s album through-and-through. All cameos are subtle; carefully arranged to flesh out the album’s textures, rather than sweep the stage completely.

2 Queens of the Stone AgeStylistically, … Like Clockwork paints its tapestries with pulpy strokes of the Gothic, from the album’s cover art to occasional references to the likes of Hell, gods, and vampyres. Such topics align with QotSA‘s token musicianship to fuel some consistently thrilling cuts. If I Had A Tail struts somewhere between The Rolling Stones‘ Gimme Shelter and TCV‘s Caligulove, breaking from flashy verses into a monstrous juggernaut of a chorus, laden with growls and groans. Similar flourishes are found in Fairweather Friends – which opens with a gleefully theatrical choral hook – and Kalopsia, which takes a similar road to Interlude With Ludes, but in a much more melodic fashion. Its sumptuous verses flutter woozily around soft guitar licks, before erupting into Bowiean refrains of “what have you done?!”

This occult sheen is perfectly suited to Homme’s more sober musings on love and loneliness, but even though … Like Clockwork does exhibit a more mature, more sober QotSA, it’s a relief that they haven’t left their playfulness by the wayside. The strangled guitar riff of the magnificent I Sat By The Ocean positively gyrates against its seesawing rhythms, and the monster groove of Smooth Sailing is possibly the most potent the band have yet mined. Matching up to the mighty jam of Misfit Love with a stomping, hip-swinging ease, it just drips beads of cool, even packing in some of the year’s daftest, coolest lyrics: “I got bruises and hickies, stitches and scars / Got my own theme music: plays wherever I are.”

Having returned to the fore with a more considered and thematically cohesive record, it’s refreshing to hear that Queens of the Stone Age have allowed themselves the time – and space – to evolve and ripen as a group. In the simplest terms, it’s the strongest Homme project in a good few years, one of the strongest offerings of this year so far, and easily the best Queens album since Rated R. Such plaudits may sound hyperbolic, but listening to … Like Clockwork offers a potent reminder of just how much we’ve missed hearing Homme and co. at work. All hail the Queens.

8/10

“Oh, visions of collisions, fuckin’ bon voyage.”

07/07/13

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Posted on July 7, 2013, in The Music World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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