Review by Greg Cadman
Six years is a long time, but the making of Queens of the Stone Age‘s sixth record was not a simple one: in 2010, frontman Josh Homme’s heart stopped during surgery. He was revived and emerged unscathed, but his life had taken a dramatic turn – he had literally died and come back to life. For a long time making music was not even a passing thought, but what was arguably the bleakest period of his forty year existence gave birth a truly remarkable work of art in the form of …Like Clockwork, the first Queens album since 2007’s Era Vulgaris.
The album starts in a noticeably less immediate but moodier fashion with ‘Keep Your Eyes Peeled’, which makes heavy use of Michael Schuman’s bass and Dean Fertita’s keys for spooky atmosphere. While it won’t get your blood pumping, it appropriately sets the stage for the darkest Queens album to date. ‘I Sat By the Ocean’ doesn’t increase the pace much but offers bluesy rhythms that would feel at home on any of the last two albums, while ‘The Vampyre of Time and Money’ is a delicate piano number with added synths for a stronger psychedelic effect. It’s not until lead single ‘My God Is the Sun’, which boasts some of the noodliest guitar work not seen on a Rush album and monstrous drums courtesy of Dave Grohl, that QOTSA really begin to rock, however.
Do not mistake this for a problem, though – while Queens of the Stone Age know how to pack a punch and it’s a joy to hear them doing so, it’s the haunting ambience and dreamy soundscapes that make this such a treat for the ears. The songs sound simple on the surface, but you’ll discover something new every time. This is the most experimental, diverse and “out there” Queens record in a long time, possibly ever, and sees the band expanding their pool of influences while maintaining the finesse and musicianship that made us fall in love with this band to begin with.
One of the most notable things about …Like Clockwork is the impressive list of guest musicians including many former Queens members such as Dave Grohl, Nick Oliveri and Mark Lanegan, as well as Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner, Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters and even Sir Elton John. These people are among Josh’s dearest friends, the people who helped him through his darkest hour, so it’s fitting that they played a part in this momentous return, and while none of them steal the spotlight, their contributions are more subtle than you might expect (or hope). You’d be forgiven for not noticing many of them on your first listen – most of them tend to stay in the shadows and provide supporting roles, mainly in the form of backing vocals. ‘Fairweather Friends’ features a handful of these guests lending their voices while Sir Elton plays the piano in a jam that showcases the whole band at the top of their game in one of the album’s many highlights.
It’s worth mentioning that the band’s drummer of the last decade, Joey Castillo, left during the early stages of development, and so only performed on four of ten tracks. Naturally, when you lose your drummer, you get one of the biggest rockstars in the world to replace him and finish the album. In addition, Jon Theodore (formerly of The Mars Volta and now the permanent Queens drummer) plays on one song. All three men are highly gifted in their own right and bring a lot to the table, but all know exactly how the band works and operate on the same wavelength.
A lot of people have epiphanies which result in artistic inspiration when they narrowly escape the clutches of Death, but Josh Homme gave him a firm handshake. He and his cohorts could easily have written another Songs for the Deaf, but that’s not how they operate. …Like Clockwork is a genuine triumph from some truly gifted musicians, and is very easily a contender for album of the year.
9 out of 10
- Keep Your Eyes Peeled
- I Sat By the Ocean
- The Vampyre of Time and Money
- If I Had a Tail
- My God Is the Sun
- Fairweather Friends
- Smooth Sailing
- I Appear Missing
- …Like Clockwork