God, it feels good when that first strike of sludge guitar hits on Queens Of The Stone Age’s new album, …Like Clockwork. First track, “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” travels at a lowly lurk, like carefully stepping through a graveyard at night. Frontman Josh Homme takes deep painful stabs on his downtuned guitar while distressed ghouls crank away in the background.
It’s been a while since QOTSA have released new music. Since 2007’s mighty, bare-knuckled Era Vulgaris, Homme has been driving, red-eyed and burnt, through the California desert. He fronted the superb, eye-gouging Them Crooked Vultures with Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and old pal Dave Grohl on drums and dropped a third Eagles Of Death Metal record.
Now, Homme returns with old Queens’ players in tow, but has lassoed an army of friends, old and new. Grohl is here performing on a majority of the songs, founding bassist Nick Oliveri returns for one and Mark Lanegan, Homme’s wife Brody Dalle and Trent Reznor all contribute, while Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters, Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys and, yes, Elton John add their heft to the record.
The tempo shifts from song to song. The second track and head-bobber, “I Sat By The Ocean,” is the most overtly Queens-sounding with those slithering, braying guitars. “The Vampyre Of Time And Memory” slows way down, each measure strung together with ominous keyboard and fat synthesizer. At first “Kolpsia” throws the listener for a loop, sounding like a pasty dream, but then flaps open into a hotbox of feedback and 90’s riffage. A beautiful melody is pitted against Homme’s gnarled scowl and somewhere in the mix is Reznor on vocals, but it’s hard to pick him out.
Homme’s drugged, careless snarl is in full effect on the record’s best song, “If I Had A Tail.” “I wanna suck, I wanna lick, I wanna cry, I wanna spit. Tears of pleasure, tears of pain, they trickle down your face the same,” he sings along to the bump. An undeniable boogie is at work here. It instantly picks the body up and soon you’ll be reaching for a bottle of whiskey and car keys.
A great clamped-down energy controls “Smooth Sailing.” Homme finds himself at the bottom looking upwards, not giving two fucks about what comes next. “I’m burning bridges, I destroyed the mirage,” he sings, before offering a classic line only he could erect: “I blow my load over the status quo.” Lyrics like that, well, they just don’t come very often. The album then descends into the spectral “I Appear Missing,” where lost souls go hammering back into the dirt.
It’s devastatingly obvious Grohl and Homme are on the same rhythmic wavelength. One of the greatest drummers playing today, Grohl, holds these songs down with his consistent punch and full force rolling crescendos that just fucking explode through the speakers. The results of these two rock and roll hemoglobins is achingly satisfying. As a drummer, it’s impossible not to air drum wherever you are.
A steady, plodding piano from John finishes out the record on the title track. It brings out an emotional response heavier than any other Queens song before it. “Everyone it seems has somewhere to go,” Homme swoons, “the faster the world spins, the shorter the lights will grow.” It’s not all drug-taking, car-racing, lip-smacking, but down in the dirt reflection, too.
As the title may suggest, this album is another chip off the ol’ Queens Of The Stone Age block. It begins and ends with the grave, with slight detours in the middle of spirits rising and circulating. Homme feathers his vocals a little more and soundscapes creep in, but once it begins to sound too pretty, there is an off-note, a pinged sharp, that uglies it. …Like Clockwork is a borderline masterpiece of swampy rock and roll.