Emerging from a bout with depression, Josh Homme and his Queens Of The Stone Age released their latest, …Like Clockwork, in the summer of 2013. A hungry, eager audience snapped the ten-song disc up, for good reason: it’s catchy, it’s moving, it’s impulsive, it’s sensual, and it’s production is flawless. This is what you get when you put world-weary, well-traveled professional musicians in to a high-pressure recording situation to produce their first opus together in six years.
An original album that segues easily in to their discography, …Like Clockwork is not esoteric enough to be considered a radical departure that would alienate existing fans. The disc also isn’t ten tunes of average sameness. The song-to-song variety on show – bluesy rock, grandiose pop, “desert rock”, even a piquant, emotional modern power ballad (“The Vampyre Of Time And Memory”) – draws in the ear. There’s a lot on offer in this melodic, bittersweet, vocally driven record. What you hear is what you get, and multiple ‘foraging’ listens for nuances and undertones only reap greater rewards. Overall, Homme and company command a Led Zeppelin-esque confident looseness and familiarity with the performance of these hook-laden, intimate tunes.
Masters of texture, contrast, and ambiance, “The Queens” are dynamic and invigorating. It sounds like a lot of work went in to the composition or arrangement of the songs, spurred partially by lineup changes, which discouraged complacency. Not many performers outside of jazz really use even the wash of cymbals as dramatic elements, so to hear that in a rock band context is very pleasant. They also work on volume as an over-reaching dynamic to carry the emotional tilt of an entire song (“…Like Clockwork”) at a level usually only heard in classical music.
Cloak-and-dagger unpredictability surprises and catches the ear during “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”, “If I Had A Tail”, and “Kalopsia”. The most accessible tunes, what would be termed (at least somewhat) straightforward tasty American rock and roll, seem to be “I Sat By The Ocean”, “If I Had A Tail”, and “Fairweather Friends”. The band throws caution to the wind in their command of the swaggering, “put up or shut up”, boastful “Smooth Sailing”. There are no unintentional jagged riff-to-riff idea flows: songs are cohesive and flowing. If the band wants to rattle your cage, they will, but you’ll know it. The band has refined the art of juxtaposing seemingly mismatched, unsettled, sometimes ever-so-slightly-out-of-tune bends and notes into a science. It seems to say “This might not be a perfect note, or the note that you feel ‘belongs’ here, but it’s the note you get, and you’re going to like it. Or else.” Abbreviated instrument breaks within the songs are added as spice.
Homme’s dual-range vocals are cleanly, and very nicely performed. Vocals are interesting in that he has a nice midrange and a satin rock edge, with a definite break to falsetto. Check out the entire first verses of the astute “Fairweather Friends” and the biting, pessimistic realist “Like Clockwork”. With top-shelf talent, a democratic songwriting policy, creative control, and modern production, the band has unlimited reach to color their sonic portrait. In the capable hands of Homme, (Troy) Van Leeuwen, and (Dean) Fertita, the atmosphere of the album is deftly morphed from something static to something that seems almost living, waiting to crystallize out of thin air. It’s easy to over-appreciate good vocals and good guitar, so, what are listeners possibly missing on a casual ‘tasting session’? Tight arrangements. Subtle percussion accents, courtesy (Joey) Castillo, (Dave) Grohl, and (Jon) Theodore. A precise, tight groovy interplay between (Michael) Shuman‘s bass and the drums: not just the parts themselves, but the accuracy at which they’re delivered. Sultry vocal, slide guitar, and legato guitar lines, so delicious and smooth. Little flourishes here and there, carefully worked in to the stout ‘fabric’ of the songs. Emotionally articulate, honest, hard-hitting lyrics. Understated, almost sneaky, guest appearances by some of rock music’s elite, including Sir Elton John. And more!
For a band who likes to keep the ingredients of their sound a trade secret, there’s quite a bit of specific gear pointed out in the extended credits page on their official website. The answers are available for those who genuinely seek. Queens Of The Stone Age have again refused to settle for average, refused to allow mediocrity in to their ranks. …Like Clockwork is a varied, pop rock record that will appeal to a broad range of listeners, without compromising the band’s collective creative urge.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled
I Sat By The Ocean
The Vampyre Of Time And Memory
If I Had A Tail
My God Is The Sun
I Appear Missing
Band Lineup (Studio 2013, core contributors):
Joshua Homme – Vocals, Guitar
Dean Fertita – Piano, Keyboard, Guitar
Troy Van Leeuwen – Guitar
Michael Shuman – Bass
Joey Castillo, Dave Grohl, Jon Theodore – Drums
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