2013 Matador Records
To understand why there is so much darkness on the latest album from the reigning kings of sun-baked desert rock requires a look back at the circumstances that shaped it. As band nucleus Josh Homme himself has stated, he “died” on the operating table as a result of complications during a 2010 knee surgery.
So while the brush with death and the lengthy three months of bedridden recovery that followed gave him hope, it also appears to have given him further clarity on the bigger picture. In that sense, “…Like Clockwork” feels very much appreciative of one’s own time on this earth and how they choose to spend it.
The slinky anthemic rock n’ roll hooks and paper cut sharp guitar licks are no longer the primary currency; instead replaced by dense plodding ballads and introspective excursions through the psyche. Aiding the band on this journey are not only an army of friends, but a penchant for more obscure instrumentation in the form of strings and such that give the songs a foreboding emotional heft.
In many ways, ‘…Like Clockwork” is reminiscent of a mid-career record from one of the 70′s classic rock behemoths. An undertaking where the damage from the hard partying ways and recklessness of youth has begun to catch up and the impact of one’s legacy becomes a key consideration.
Boasting a diverse collection of songs and slow burn tempos, “…Like Clockwork” is not exactly inviting through its initial spins. In fact, given the ground covered it almost feels impenetrable, reluctant to cough up its secrets. It may take some effort on the listener’s part to digest, but if they persevere there’s a ton of subtle complexity and beauty to be found in the relative bleakness the band present.
Take a song like “I Appear Missing“, which sounds like a slow-motion freefall through purgatory. It’s a haunting endeavor with stark lyrical content and a reluctant sense of acceptance, yet its tone is surprisingly hopeful. “Kalopsia” wades through the tropical sunset of emotional afterthought, contrasting bleak lyrical delivery with an almost ironic quirk.
Songs like “My God Is The Sun” and “I Sat By The Ocean” pay homage to the groups rocking past; while the slick squeals and bizarre bombast of “Smooth Sailing” could fit right in on “Era Vulgaris“. Perhaps one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable tracks on the album though is “Fairweather Friends“.
Despite having underpinnings that could find it a home on a Chicago record; its lively keys and guest turns from Elton John, Trent Reznor, Mark Lanegan and Nick Oliveri showcase the bonds of friendship while seemingly decrying the lack of loyalty its title suggests.
It’s this kind of tongue in cheek twist that has always made Queens Of The Stone Age‘s material stand out. “…Like Clockwork” is well aware of this and pays many a moment of fan service in this regard.
But where the bands past albums have often been playful and bright, there are few moments on this opus where the sun gets in your eyes. This is the cold night spent in the desert after the blazing heat of a career’s worth of success.
Leave it to the Queens Of The Stone Age to enlist a cadre of artists that includes Dave Grohl (who handles a wealth of the studio drumming,) Trent Reznor, Elton John and more, and for the most part, outshine them all while at their darkest.
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