Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
Buy: Like Clockwork
Along with maybe Arcade Fire and Josh Homme’s proteges Arctic Monkeys, Queens Of The Stone Age have been one of the defining rock bands of the 21st Century. Their heavy, layered stoner-rock and Homme’s poetic lyrical approach helped them transcend current trends and fashions – so a six year delay since their last album Era Vulgaris shouldn’t mean QOTSA’s return is hampered by silly talk of ‘relevance’.
Six years is a long time in music though, and such an absence does raise a few questions. Most pertinently: how have Queens Of The Stone Age and their music changed since we last heard from them?
On the evidence of …Like Clockwork, the answer to that question is that they have undoubtedly matured into a more controlled and composed band – relying more on textures and nuances for impact, rather than the gut-punching riffs that characterised their output in the 2000’s.
‘The Vampyre Of Time And Memory’ is the best example of this. It opens with the fuzzy blare of a James Blake song and then travels along on a prog-rock guitar line, with Homme’s gently brooding vocals punctuating the hypnotic journey. It’s not exactly what you would expect from a QOTSA song with ‘Vampyre’ in the title – but it is very good all the same.
Which pretty much sums the album up as a whole – it’s brilliantly produced throughout and Homme’s songwriting has moved up a gear to spread out into bolder, wider territory. ‘Kalopsia’ starts off as a beautifully arranged and serene proggy tune with pyschedelic overtones, then quickly evolves into an angry guitar-cruncher before returning back to where it started. ‘Fairweather Friends’ features some nifty piano tinkling from Sir Elton John, but its the stretched out guitar riffs and impassioned lyrics that steal the show.
Another high profile guest, Jake Shears, also finds himself outshined on ‘Smooth Sailing’. His vocals certainly add a slinky appeal, but the star is the funky, Muse-esque riff and Homme’s almost comical ‘in flagrante’ line.
While we’re on the subject of guest appearances, Arctic Monkey Alex Turner is worth a mention. He’s credited as a songwriter for ‘Kalopsia’ – for which he came up with the title – but it’s his contribution on ‘If I Had A Tail’ that deserves the attention. As well as serving up a wicked Keith Richards-esque guitar line, he adds his own vocals into the multiple vocal tracks that also include Mark Lanegan and Nick Oliveri. Predictably, the result is a rich, textured and intense melting pot which ends on an ethereal note with Turner’s echoing vocals.
The highlight of the album comes in the shape of the heavy prog-rock of ‘I Appear Missing’ – which after multiple listens is now in my top three QOTSA songs (sorry ‘Go With The Flow’!) It’s dark, menacing and, again, beautifully arranged, with an intense and poetic chorus about ‘hospital gowns’ and ‘rabbit holes’ worked in for good measure. It’s a majestic six minutes of the kind of intelligent, powerful rock music that is only attainable by a select few – and QOTSA have now joined those ranks.
With this being a Queens Of The Stone Age album, there’s still a healthy amount of impressive riffs. ‘I Sat By The Ocean’ is a great mid-paced riff-dominated rock song, while ‘My God Is The Sun’ is second only to ‘I Appear Missing’ on the epic front – with a brilliantly rumbling bass, incisive riffs and a building crescendo of a chorus.
…Like Clockwork may at first take QOTSA fans aback – but over time, and when it’s multiple layers and textures become apparent, it will easily be seen as one of their greatest albums. Which is exactly what we expect after a six year absence!