Best Albums of 2013: #3
3. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
The desert-rock deities remind us why the Queens are still King
A guest spot by Nick Gattone
Faces in the Crowd*
...Like Clockwork is proof that great art is born out of extreme circumstances. It’s creation reads like a superhero origin story, fraught with trauma, despair, and finally redemption. Complications following a routine knee surgery had Queens’ mastermind Josh Homme near death and bedridden for three months, questioning not only the future of the band, but his own mortality. Brought back from the brink and into the studio at the urging of his bandmates, this adversity served as the catalyst, inspiring deeply personal songs, and the best QOTSA album to date. Much was made of the lengthy guest list: Trent Reznor, Elton John (who famously suggested that he only thing missing from the band was an actual queen), Dave Grohl, and former-bassist Nick Oliveri to name a few, but these collaborations fit their respective songs so perfectly that you’d hard-pressed to guess who is on each song. From the gloomy death march of “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”, and the sleazy Bowie-esque funk of “Smooth Sailing” to the dark, epic “I Appear Missing”, …Like Clockwork plays like a “best of” record. It takes all of the previous albums’ best elements, adds a large dose of personal suffering and introspection, and streamlines them into a package that’s all killer and no filler. -Jayson Ellin
Like Clockwork feels like the pinnacle- like a culmination of all the evolutions of Josh Homme that have existed since the inception of Kyuss in 1987. The raw fury of Kyuss and The Desert Sessions, the garage-punk explosiveness of Rated R, the brutality of Songs for the Deaf, the neo-psychedelia of Lullabies to Paralyze and Era Vulgaris, the funkiness of Them Crooked Vultures– it’s all there. The potential for a sprawling, ornate album with little cohesiveness was very real- especially when you look at the list of features- Dave Grohl on drums, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner, former QOTSA bassist Nick Oliveri, Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan, and, unbelievably, Sir Elton John. Like Clockwork, however, does not collapse under the weight of its influences and cameos-it skillfully weaves them into a 46 minute masterpiece.
Critics and fans alike saw the Queens’ previous two albums- Lullabies to Paralyze and Era Vulgaris- as a misstep of sorts from Homme and co. Neither provided the leap-out-of-your-speakers-and-incinerate-your-face quality that we had unfairly come to expect. Like Clockwork makes all that make sense, and feels like Homme laughing in our collective stupid faces and saying “I told you so.” While we were all concerned about the direction of the band, Homme (who used to go by the pseudonym “Carlo Von Sexron”) was simply experimenting with new sounds and techniques, all the while knowing very well he could blow our minds with rock and roll if need be.
“Keep Your Eyes Peeled” kicks off the album on a less-than cheerful note. It’s plodding, industrial, brutality until a brief dream-like bridge around the 2:30 mark; then, right back into the doomy goodness. A radio-smash it is not, but “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” is a good tone-setter, and a refreshing reminder that, even with a new lineup, the Queens can still sound like their self-titled debut when they want. The next track, “I Sat By The Ocean” opens up with a dangerously catchy slide guitar lick-it burrows into your brain and does not leave. The juxtaposition of these tracks-probably the most different from each other on the album-is worth noting. “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” is centered around a riff that methodically pounds away; “I Sat By The Ocean” is generally upbeat, catchy, and accessible. Yet, both songs are equally enjoyable-a true testament to the Queens’ versatility.
…Like Clockwork showcases a recent addition to Josh Homme’s repertoire- the piano ballad. For a guy that spent the first 20 years of his career trying to melt your face off with his guitar, Homme’s ballad-crafting ability and vocal dexterity are nothing short of incredible. The album’s third track, “The Vampyre Of Time And Memory” is one of these ballads. It’s loosely a slow crescendo with some Pink Floyd-esque solo breaks. “Does anyone ever get this right?/ I feel no love” croons Homme in the refrain, before unleashing some biting lyrical sarcasm in the final verse- “I’m alive- hurray/ but you’re wrong again/ cause I feel no love” The album’s title song follows a similar course. For a while, it’s just Homme, a piano, and his falsetto as he muses on mortality. “Not everything that goes around comes back around, you know” he says; he’s talking, of course, about a clock. It spins in one direction and ceases for no man- hence, the title of the album and the song. The track eventually goes into a busy and bizzare instrumental breakdown, as is typically par for the course with the Queens.
Homme and the boys set out some time on the album to flat-out rock, too. “If I Had A Tail” is straightforward gritty rock, featuring a group chorus from Homme, Alex Turner, Mark Lanegan, and Nick Oliveri. The short solo that kicks in after the first chorus is probably my favorite on the album. It’s not particularly impressive from a technical standpoint, but the way it so effortlessly meshes with the song is beyond description. “My God Is The Sun” starts off with maracas- that’s a surefire way to know shit’s about to go down. Probably the album’s coolest riff, Homme lyrically and musically pays homage to his California desert roots, not forgetting the days he played shows with Kyuss in the middle of nowhere, using nothing but portable gasoline generators to power his equipment. Grohl, who shows uncharacteristic levels of restraint throughout the album, really shines on this one. “Fairweather Friends” features Elton John on piano and vocals- you probably wouldn’t know that if I didn’t tell you. His baroque-style piano work is exceedingly awesome, though, as are Dave Grohl’s ass-kicking drums. It’s a fun track, that has a kind of light/heavy/light/heavy structure. “Smooth Sailing” is my personal favorite track on the album- it’s almost too funky, too potent to be legal. Ladies should probably have some Plan B ready before listening. The song is a deeply layered attack, featuring lots of intertwining guitars and a gnarly solo about halfway through.
There are 2 tracks on the album that are really impossible to categorize. “Kalopsia”, which briefly features Trent Reznor, vaguely follows the formula he made so popular. A gentle tune takes a turn for the twisted when the guitars rudely, violently crash in. It alternates between the melodic and abrasive phases for 4 minutes and builds to a haunting, scream-y finish. “I Appear Missing” is the longest track on the album at an even 6:00, and it features, for my money, the overall most impressive and intricate guitar work. Homme opts for a slide guitar during a breakdown and makes it soundly oddly Tom Morello-esque. Somewhere in the middle, it spirals into complete madness, with Grohl pounding away triplets like he’s covering “Dazed and Confused” during a bad trip. It also employs a classic QOTSA trick, seen most often on Songs For The Deaf– the false finish. Just when you think the song might be over, it blasts back in, more muscular and louder than it was before.
Rock has become a niche genre. Options are extremely limited, especially if you’re like me and indie-rock isn’t really your thing. Considering the fact they were gone for 6 years, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable for the Queens to put out a Stadium Arcadium type album and throw 30 songs at us. Homme, however, is a master of creating complexity out of simplicity. An album inspired by deep personal anguish comes in at a mere 10 tracks and 46 minutes. …Like Clockwork is a trip, though, featuring a mind-blowing array of songwriting styles and tasteful yet meaningful contributions from the all-star cast of featured artists. With …Like Clockwork, Queens of the Stone Age do something very few bands manage to do- connect their past to their present. It’s a masterpiece of an album- their best in a decade- that appeals just as much to Kyuss fans as it does people who’ve only heard “3’s and 7’s” and “No One Knows.”
Listen to “Smooth Sailing” by Queens of the Stone Age
BEST ALBUMS OF 2013