Review Summary: Josh Homme looks to the past and mixes in a little bit of the darkness into their light, catchy formula, but they sound as fresh as they ever have.
Queens of the Stone Age - peddlers of heavy, yet totally catchy rock – fit into the category of bands that have one classic album in their discography that everything they have ever released since is always compared to. Songs for the Deaf, of course, is that one album. While some may argue that Rated R which preceded it is equally as good, Songs for the Deaf gets the edge for marrying thick, stoner metal guitar work with a Beatles-esque pop sensibility. It was an artistic triumph in that it could go from being mainstream and poppy (“Go With the Flow”, “Do It Again”) then all of a sudden morph into something completely unfit for commercial radio (“Six Shooter”, the title track.) It’s a compelling listen from start to finish, and should seriously be owned by everyone who gives even the slightest damn about heavy music.
After not releasing an album since 2007’s Era Vulgaris (save for that one album by Them Crooked Vultures), QOTSA mastermind and ex-Kyuss guitarist Josh Homme returned to the studio to craft his latest work of catchy rock satisfaction, and has delivered it to us in the form of …Like Clockwork, which, not surprisingly, drifts away from a more commercially acceptable sound, but only a little. The infectious vocal melodies and riffs that made people fall in love with this band back in 2002 are here on display, but to a lesser extent. The band flirts with a darker sound for a good portion of this new album, which hits you as soon as the opening track “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” begins. Any casual listener who is only familiar with the band’s radio singles might be in for a shock when they hear this song’s sparse palm-muted guitars that are so thick and bassy and its funeral march tempo. However, this track features a great vocal melody during the drum break, and Homme’s vocals overall sound fantastic on this album, which proves that his edge and passion hasn’t dulled over time. Near the end of the album, the track “I Appear Missing” provides more of that dark, spooky atmosphere in the form of a song that’s borderline progressive rock with its non-linear structure and six minute runtime. Dean Fertita’s piano and keyboards on tracks like “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” also separate this album from Songs for the Deaf; they’re absolutely lovely, tastefully applied, and add texture to an already textured album.
While Josh Homme is an amazing artist who is always producing standout music, he has no problem not hiding his influences. There are plenty of moments on this album that recall other artists that range from Pink Floyd to Ours. The funky “Smooth Sailing” is stylistically similar to Muse’s “Panic Station” from last year, and the rhythm guitar on “If I Had a Tail” vaguely resembles Judas Priest’s 1981 song “All the Way.” The title track which closes the album gives off a total Pink Floydian vibe when the drums kick in thanks to its hazy, mid-paced plodding, moving piano, and Homme’s David Gilmour-aping guitar solo. The anthemic and impassioned chorus of “Fairweather Friends” recalls something that the aforementioned Ours would’ve done on their last record “Mercy (Dancing for the Death of an Imaginary Enemy)”, but even though Homme looks to the recent and more distant past for inspiration, this is unmistakably a QOTSA album and it’s taking the band forward into interesting new territory, not backward into retroville.
So why only a 3.5 rating? I tried to listen to this album without comparing it to Songs for the Deaf, I really did, but I failed to do so. While …Like Clockwork doesn’t pale in comparison to that album, it just fails to reach that level of musical ear candy or bring me to that plane of enjoyment, but it’s still a great album, so it gets a “great” rating, simple as that. It may be six more years until the next Queens of the Stone Age album, but their entire catalog, including this album, should keep us all happy and occupied until then.