Review Summary: Josh Homme & Co. return with a stellar album that blends their many influences and idiosyncrasies together, but it's not quite the 'return-to-form' we all hoped it would be.
Queens Of The Stone Age certainly stirred up quite a lot of hype when they announced their return to the public eye. After all, it has been 6 years since they've released Era Vulgaris
, and within that time frame, Josh Homme appeared so preoccupied with his other musical endeavors that it seemed as if he had lost all interest in what is 'supposed' to be his primary band. Though to say that hadn't accomplished anything major within that state of hiatus from Queens Of The Stone Age, would be utterly fictitious. In fact, for a time, it seemed as if Josh Homme was finally becoming acquainted with his own creative potential, releasing two critically acclaimed albums such as Eagles Of Death Metal's Heart On
and even joining forces with musical juggernauts like Foo Fighter's Dave Grohl and Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones to record Them Crooked Vultures' debut album. Josh Homme even found some time to guide the Arctic Monkey's through their journey down the rabbit hole in Humbug
. Of course, in retrospective, each of those aforementioned albums were nothing more than a rehash of the machismo-fueled rock and roll that is encountered throughout his entire discography, but one can't argue with the fact that Josh Homme has a knack for writing rock tunes that are as thrilling as they are infectiously catchy. And so, after spending 6 years showing off his seemingly boundless bag of tricks, one could only anticipate what he had in store for the next Queens Of The Stone Age album.
To say …Like Clockwork
is just another 'Josh Homme album' would be an accurate description of its content, but the same can't be said for its description as a Queens Of The Stone Age album. It's true that Josh Homme offers us, yet again, his usual brand of desert rock, but …Like Clockwork
doesn't quite exhibit the typical Queens Of The Stone Age game plan. At first glance, it may seem like the band is working in a familiar territory, with …Like Clockwork
's moody, desert sound being but an echo of an atmosphere once conjured up in Songs For The Deaf
and again in Lullabies To Paralyze
, but the music is engineered uniquely different from anything else before it. That isn't to say that Queens Of The Stone Age have suddenly discovered a new style of playing, but instead have taken certain elements from previously written songs; the haunting atmosphere in "Someone's In The Wolf" and "A Song For The Deaf", the slowed down melodies of "Into The Hollow" and "Auto Pilot", and even the quasi-progressive arrangements that was occasionally explored in songs like "Better Living Through Chemistry", to the point where each musical component is broken down, then blended together to simulate the illusion that we're listening to something new.
Although despite my mild cynicism, …Like Clockwork
, as I previously mentioned, is not an ordinary offering from that little ol' band from Palm Springs. There's quite a handful of guest stars that have been invited to this reunion party of sorts to help Queens Of The Stone Age renovate their style. Some names are familiar like Dave Grohl, Mark Lanegan, and Josh Homme's latest desert rock protégé, Alex Turner, while others come as a bit of a surprise, such as Elton John, Trent Reznor, and Jake Shears. And as usual, with practically every new chapter that's added into this story of precarious journeys and intractable characters that is Queens Of The Stone Age's career, we again encounter another departure- this time, drummer Joey Castillo, who has been permanently replaced by the talented Jon Theodore. Though despite the various guest stars and the latest change in the band's roster, …Like Clockwork
is still reminiscent of the group's signature gritty sound and sinister vibe, but there is a lack of instant knockouts here like "No One Knows" and "Regular John". Indeed, …Like Clockwork
isn't quite as seductive as one would assume, in fact, it's a bit of tease. One that demands a serious commitment before unveiling its voluptuous qualities-- and even then, as it denudes itself and exposes all it has to offer, what we witness isn't quite as titillating as we hoped.
Rather than the conjuring up another thrilling onslaught of power and precision, Queens Of The Stone Age went in a new direction with this album, one that's more focused and mildly ambiguous. Songs like "Keep Your Eyes Peeled" and "I Appear Missing", with their mellow demeanors and sturdy melodicism, showcase an agenda that is more preoccupied with providing a mind-bending jam rather than just merely rocking out. Though just because the emphasis here is on melody and coordination, as opposed to heavy guitar riffs and tantalizing solos, doesn't mean these songs lack any sense of vitality. In fact, Queens Of The Stone Age prove to their audience that a layered composition, one that unravels slowly through time and takes the listener through a journey of fantastical ambiences and complex orchestrations, can be equally as invigorating as hard rock anthems like, say, "Go With The Flow". The highlights in …Like Clockwork
are certainly much more different than those of its predecessors. Where we once searched through the tracklistings, looking for an instant hit, …Like Clockwork
forces us to solely interact with conceptual songs that require repeated spins to fully appreciate. Now, there's nothing wrong with an album striving for artistry rather than appeal, but when the majority of the song tend to follow along the same fabricated arrangement of slowed down grooves and psychedelically-tinged ambiences, one can't help but feel a bit claustrophobic.
Songs like "Kalopsia" and "Like Clockwork" are some of the most emotive and elaborate pieces that Queens Of The Stone Age have ever written, which makes them all the more welcomed because we get to see Queens Of The Stone Age tapping into their experimental side by applying layers of textures and erratic moods that we rarely see them conjure up. Even Josh Homme shows a sense of maturity in his performance as a frontman. He doesn't reprise his typical 'guitar hero' persona that he often loves to project, instead, we get to see him embrace the performance of a singer rather than that of a guitarist. In fact, it's Josh Homme's singing that carries most of the music rather than an onslaught of riffs and solos, an approach that revitalizes the sensual and hypnotic atmosphere that Queens Of The Stone Age has proven to be more than capable of in the past. "Keep Your Eyes Peeled" is a great example of this. His voice is so mystical and inviting here, but the reason it's such a captivating performance is because he's actually reminiscing about something deeper in his lyrics, something more abstract and philosophical, as opposed to the usual tales of promiscuity and debauchery. In its strive for artistic credibility, …Like Clockwork does
live up to its hype. There are no generically fabricated rock tunes here, and in fact, …Like Clockwork
hardly ever finds itself making any mistakes, but for some reason, it's just not as captivating as its predecessors. Now, don't get me wrong, this is indeed an accomplishment effort, and one that truly showcases Queens Of The Stone Age finally honing their sound and shifting their best qualities into masterful works, but aside from being able to witness the group deepening their skills, one can't help but miss the days when their music thrived on raw guitar work and a slick bravado attitude. Despite the album's brilliant moments, and it’s mostly skillfully constructed songs, I simply couldn't help but feel underwhelmed by the whole listening experience.
Which brings me back to my initial point, it's true that this album is more coherent and conceptual when compared to most of their previous works. ...Like Clockwork
focuses on emotional and sensuous balladry as opposed to the usual machismo-fueled rock and roll, which is a major transition for the band, but a lot of the tracks that are handed down may initially feel like grains of sand slipping through our fingers, rather than something that can be easily grasped. Most of the songs here are growers, and even the one's that are supposed to be immediate tunes like "My God Is The Sun" and "If I Had A Tail", don't quite grab and hold on to our attention like "No One Knows" or "Little Sister" did in the past. I suppose this album is tougher to 'get' because this is the first time Queens Of The Stone Age are not constructing an album that is about individual standouts, but rather a set of songs that together illustrate a greater portrait. It's almost like watching a film, in which the individual scenes mean nothing to us unless we see the movie from beginning to end. Everything here is meant to conjure up a thematic mood and setting, one that takes us away to lose ourselves in a nocturnal, desert scenery.