Review Summary: In Times New Roman... relies heavily on the past, but makes a reasonably engaging album out of it.
You know, when Era Vulgaris
is considered to be the low point of Queens of the Stone Age’s career, it goes to show how incredibly consistent they are. When you listen to their albums back-to-back, you can really hear the gamut at play, and how Homme has developed and evolved as an artist. However, at the time, to many fans, Era Vulgaris
didn’t cut the mustard when compared to what came before it. This, compounded with Homme taking on too much work elsewhere, and a botched knee surgery he had (causing his heart to stop and leaving him bedridden for several months), resulted in a downward spiral of depression. After a long spell overcoming these tribulations, he managed to channel his creativity and create 2013’s …Like Clockwork
: a grand overhaul in approach and style for QOTSA and one so good, it’s arguably considered to be their magnum opus. Yet, when you rebound that hard and create your greatest work to date, how do you follow up from that? For 2018’s Villains
, it was the antithesis of …Like Clockwork
’s genesis: a solid entry that expands on and exploits their wondrous new template, but one that lacks the same urgency and insatiability to explore and challenge both Homme and his cohorts. It’s clear, after the burdening energy that went into their 2013 masterpiece, Homme just wanted to have fun and write a happy-go-lucky disco rock record with little consequence. Of course, for the last couple of years the question pervading the room has been, “where do they go from here?” Simply put, I don’t think the band could have continued down this trodden path without it feeling somewhat weary and phoned in. Thankfully QOTSA were pragmatic enough to avoid this pitfall for their new chapter and instead delivered something very familiar, but with just enough new things in it to make it somewhat fresh.
To encompass In Times New Roman…
– it continues to utilise …Like Clockwork
’s ingenious framework, but unlike Villains
, which was very captious and limiting with its sonic breadth, this album embodies a wide variety of sounds from the band’s warehouse-sized arsenal. Surprisingly, the album takes particular interest in the Lullabies to Paralyse
and (ironically) Era Vulgaris
eras, using Lullabies to Paralyse
’s fever-dream aesthetics and tenebrous production choices with Era
’s brevity and groove-centric experimental songwriting. A lot of the songs here harken back to the nightmarish lullabies on Lullabies to Paralyse
, where Homme spends a good chunk of time crooning and hissing in the dark corners of your ears, nestled inside a duvet of multi-layered vocal and guitar effects. In fact, Homme is one of the core positives here, really spreading his wings and adding fresh hues to the Queens sound. For instance, amusingly, after the first couple of minutes of “Straight Jacket Fitting”, Homme embodies this Oogie Boogie-type persona; commanding the song like a thespian in a stage play, ostentatiously grappling with your attention while his gloomy ensemble sashays in the shadows. Like this closing track, the album feels very grandiose and cinematic at times, but I’d even wager the dreamlike theme which permeates every facet of this album is executed much more effectively here than on previous records, which by all accounts could be down to …Like Clockwork
’s distinct influences.
Some of you might be grimacing over the Era Vulgaris
comparison, but it’s an album I’ve always enjoyed as much as the rest of their work – an album focused on weird sounds and hearty grooves. In Times New Roman…
is very much the same in this regard. For the duration, the bass sits at the forefront of the album and hammers out some devastatingly effective grooves at times: “Negative Space” has loads of breathing room for Shuman to blast out his effective little pocket-run grooves over Theodore’s spacious and precise beats; “Sicily”’s staccato verses and whirling choruses bring a hypnotic ebb and flow; and the pendulum swaying “Made to Parade” makes it impossible for you to sit still. Certainly, next to the vocals, groove is the focal point here, with guitars taking on an auxiliary role, albeit one that dictates and develops the flavour and tone of the album, utilising boatloads of funky and moody fuzz and delay effects to make it all happen. The complete package is a groovin’, gloomy good time that undisputedly asserts its own identity, despite deriving itself almost entirely from previous eras of the band – adding and even improving on tried ideas from the past.
So far so good, right? Well, there is the small matter of In Times New Roman…
lacking any clincher tracks. You know, the god-tier numbers in relation to “No One Knows”, “I Sat by the Ocean” and “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret”. With the exception of “Negative Space”, for my own rhythm-based biases, I don’t think there are any top-tier tracks you could stick on the quintessential Queens playlist. That’s not to say the album is bad or the songs here aren’t great, that’s far from being the truth. No, In Times New Roman…
seems to trade in peaks and troughs for steadfast songwriting, probably in an attempt to better refine their inimitable soundscape. The outcome from this gambit is consistency – with great songwriting, melodies, production and all the trimmings being the reward – but truthfully, there isn’t anything on here I would define as being a tremendous standout. You don’t necessarily need that, of course, but even Villains
had one or two (particularly the opener, “Feet Don’t Fail Me”) “big” moments. I suppose if you look at it cynically you could say In Times New Roman…
plays the game very safe; a solid ride with lots of excellent QOTSA moments in it, but if you’re looking for something with a bit more bite and ambition, you might be a little disappointed with what’s on offer. In spite of that, this is easily one of the strongest rock albums to come from 2023 so far, and if you’re a fan of the band or you enjoy the genre in general, this is sure to quench the majority of people’s thirst.