Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme’s last project was Them Crooked Vultures, the all-star album he did with Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin). I tried very hard to get into their self-titled album, but it never managed to grip me. The musicianship was top notch, but the songs didn’t seem to have the magic you would have expected to happen with these three brilliant artists collaborating. The songs often seemed too slow, almost droning, and they lacked the sort of hooks Josh Homme and Dave Grohl have never seemed to have trouble crafting in Queens Of The Stone Age and Foo Fighters respectively. Then again, the last Queens Of The Stone Age album, 2007’s Era Vulgaris, wasn’t nearly as catchy as the two albums that preceded it, 2005’s hypnotic Lullabies to Paralyze and 2002’s mesmerizing Songs for the Deaf. Both of those albums are now classics that were highly regarded by both longtime fans and critics alike. Era Vulgaris, on the other hand, failed to garner the rave reviews of its predecessors and I have to admit that I found it somewhat disappointing myself, though I like it considerably more now than I did when it was released.
Suffice to say that I didn’t get my hopes up for Queens Of The Stone Age’s new album, …Like Clockwork. Or at least I tried not to. As its release grew nearer, I have to admit that I became more and more excited and was ultimately dying to finally hear it. And, you know what? It doesn’t disappoint. Once you get acquainted with it. Which is to say that it’s not an immediately accessible album. It’s one of those records that gradually grows on you more and more with each listen.
The first time I listened to …Like Clockwork I was baffled by the opening track, “Keep Your Eyes Peeled.” Sure, the song’s title begs to be the first song on the album, but it’s far from being a song that quickly grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. I couldn’t believe that they’d open the album with such a slow, plodding, almost droning song. Usually one would put a song with a killer hook at the beginning of the album. I don’t like it when artists front-load an album and put all of the best (or catchiest) songs first, mind you. I’m a big fan of listening to entire albums at a time, not just playing certain songs over and over. I like getting a feel for an album, appreciating the order in which the songs are arranged and how they come together to make a complete work of art. But, still, “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” felt like filler, one of those lesser songs you’d usually reserve for the end of a record when things are winding down. Or, at the very least, it had the vibe of slower track you’d sandwich between a couple of up-tempo tunes to give listeners a breather. Suffice to say that “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” rubbed me the wrong way and immediately lowered my expectations for the album. But, as it went on, I found myself liking each song more and more. By the time I reached track 5, the highly infectious, turbo-charged “My God Is The Sun,” I was fully under the album’s spell.
Now that I’ve listened to the album several times, I’ve grown quite fond of “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” and its thick, chugging bassline. I understand how the record is supposed to play now. I get it. It’s supposed to slowly lull you in, like sirens leading a ship astray. It’s somewhat amusing, then, that the song “I Sat By The Ocean” should have the lyric, “we’re crashing ships in the night.” Not that said track is about sirens. No, it’s much deeper than that. It’s about being betrayed — and, especially, being lied to — by a loved one. “Lies are a funny thing,” Josh Homme sings matter-of-factly. “They slip through your fingertips because they never happened to you.” If the song’s philosophical waxing doesn’t charm you, its groovy stoner riffs still should.
…Like Clockwork is an album chock full of guest stars. Dave Grohl, who previously played drums on the band’s Songs for the Deaf album, pounds the skins on six of the ten tracks here. It’s his furious playing that drives “My God Is The Sun” right into your head. Grohl also drums on “If I Had A Tail,” a slightly berserk tune which features Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner on guitar and backing vocals. As if that didn’t make it enough of an all-star affair, Nick Oliveri and Mark Lanegan also sing on the track. It’s amusing that so many talented cats should feature on a song with such nonsensical lyrics. The chorus: “If I had a tail / I’d own the night / if I had a tail / I’d swat the flies.” The bridge: “I’m machine / I’m obsolete / in the land of the free / immortality.” It’s stoner rock drivel, obviously, but the riffs are the sort of sticky stuff you can’t get off of you, like cotton candy or bittersweet taffy.
Alex Turner also plays guitar and lays down some vocals on “Kalopsia,” on which Trent Reznor sings some lead vocals. His voice pairs so well with Homme’s that you might not even realize it’s him if you weren’t already aware that he sang on the track. It’s a song that starts off super mellow with Homme essentially crooning over piano but it really bursts to life with screeching guitars and angry vocals during the monstrous chorus where Reznor features prominently: “oh why you so sad / what have they done? / forget those mindless baboons / they’re off playing god.” It’s a damn-the-man affair and it’s damn good.
Alas, Reznor isn’t the biggest guest star on the album. None other than Sir Elton John plays piano and lends his vocal charms to “Fairweather Friends,” which happens to be the song with the most guests contributing backing vocals as it also features Reznor, Nick Oliveri, Mark Lanegan, Alain Johannes, and Brody Dalle. Quite a mob, to say the least. Like “Kalopsia,” it starts off quietly, but this one is quicker to go full throttle. And the chorus is nitro: “so what’s it gonna take / to get you back in bed? / gossip, drugs and snakes / they’re just our best fairweather friends (fairweather friends).” If you need a song to wake you up and get you out of bed, this one is perfect. The screaming guitar solo alone will kick your ass.
Some of the album’s best songs don’t have any guest stars. The six minute opus “I Appear Missing” is sludge rock heaven that would surely be best appreciated while stoned. “Deeper down the rabbit hole never to be found again,” Homme sings, his voice emoting the angst of a lost soul. And I especially love the ballad “The Vampyre of Time and Memory.” Homme’s voice is especially delicate here, and I mean that in the best way possible. He allows himself to be vulnerable in a way he doesn’t often do. And it’s quite deliberate, as the song goes, “to be vulnerable is needed most of all / if you intend to truly fall apart.” Those lines sum up the song nicely, but all of its lyrics are poetic and thought-provoking and are thus worthy of paying close attention to, which shouldn’t be difficult to do because the song casts a potent spell on you. “Does anyone ever get this right?” Homme asks. And, as far as this album goes, yes, you got it right. You got it right on.