Whenever a band falls into a seemingly endless series of tours (none of which go near my house) and the years pass by since their last album, I can’t help but feel a strange mix of excitement and apprehension when they decide to hit the studio.
The main risk is that the band will emerge with something that is just “okay, I guess,” and all the sudden you realize that if you ever see this band live, you’ll have to listen to a bunch of average songs amongst an otherwise awesome setlist. Your favourite band now has an era of “old stuff” and “new stuff,” and while you try to like the new stuff, it just doesn’t happen. Eventually you stop listening and the lead singer of the band turns up on an ad for breakfast cereal.
Thankfully, with their latest release Queens of the Stone Age have shown that rather than beginning a slide towards irrelevance, they’re doing the opposite. …Like Clockwork is a 45-minute serving of music that swings between the darkly dramatic and the downright funky, and it does so without compromising the unmistakable Queens of the Stone Age sound.
The album bursts into life right from the opening track with “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” a haunting 5-minute song wherein lead vocalist Joshua Homme sets the tone for the album with his moody and dramatic lyrical delivery. Homme’s vocals throughout the album are outstanding, and far more adventurous than on previous Queens of the Stone Age albums. Unfortunately the following track, “I Sat By The Ocean,” appears to move away from the dramatic and moody atmosphere that is built up throughout the album.
One of the standout tracks is “The Vampyre of Time and Memory,” a melancholic ballad characterized by a luscious synthesizer backing, a simple piano melody and gorgeous guitar solos. This track is sure to be a standout in live shows due to the perfect combination of Homme’s vocals, a synthesizer backing, and the guitar work that pulls the song along.
The most striking series of songs on the album comes later with “Kalopsia,” “Fairweather Friends,” and “Smooth Sailing”. The combination of moody synthesizers, dramatic vocals and thunderous guitars works perfectly in “Kalopsia,” a track which launches from relaxing atmospheric verses to an aggressive and heavy chorus featuring guest vocals from Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.
The following track, “Fairweather Friends,” features a long list of guest artists that include Elton John – although don’t fret, the track is certainly no “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. This track is a perfect example of how a long list of guest artists have been included throughout the album without compromising its impact and character. The drumming and guitar work combined with the melodic vocal delivery by the multitude of vocalists on the track makes it a delight to listen to.
“Smooth Sailing” is by far the funkiest track on the album, and it’s probably the closest you’ll get to wanting to dance while listening to Queens of the Stone Age. Homme’s vocals on this track are his most adventurous yet, as he pushes his voice higher than usual and with more attitude than is usually found on a Queens of the Stone Age record. Due to this, the song could have become ridiculous and embarrassing as it strays from the norm, and indeed it does come as a surprise when first heard. Despite this, the song does not appear out of the ordinary for Queens of the Stone Age, and signals that their future music may go in exciting new directions.
Rounding out the album are “I Appear Missing” and “…Like Clockwork,” two tracks that rely on a feeling of melancholy and come in sharp contrast to “Fairweather Friends” and “Smooth Sailing”. Despite having a solid foundation, “I Appear Missing” drags on for far too long. Luckily a shorter edit appears on the Queens of the Stone Age YouTube channel, and is set to beautiful animations by UK artists Boneface and Liam Brazier.
The final track on the album is “…Like Clockwork,” and it finishes the album on a downright depressing note. Homme again delivers the lyrics in a haunting and melancholic fashion, aided by a subdued piano backing and guitar solos that seem straight out of a Pink Floyd album. The song is a perfect ending to the album and helps to make it feel like a more cohesive whole.
Indeed, the most striking aspect of …Like Clockwork is how it manages to be cohesive while still not sacrificing variety and character. Queens of the Stone Age have always released music that swings from the dramatic and moody to the funky and fun, but with …Like Clockwork they manage to deliver an album that draws on older elements of their work while exploring new directions and pushing their own creative boundaries.