Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork | Album Review | By Volume

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likeclockwork

Queens of the Stone Age

...Like Clockwork

Brilliantly caught between the insane and the divine.

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Author: on August 8, 2013
7.8
Matador Records
June 3, 2013

To the observant, there was a curious irony when Queens of the Stone Age announced the title of their sixth album. Constant and polarising direction changes, mid-concert outbursts by frontman Josh Homme, and the whole Olivieri affair give weight to the story of a band that has failed to run with anything like the robotic precision of clockwork. So after six years of bubbling surface tension, the word we’re all skirting around is ‘comeback’. Successful side projects, the fleeting return of Dave Grohl to the fold and a mammoth advertising campaign indicate that this is how it was all planned. The calm before the storm was timed perfectly. Just like clockwork.

Be it purposeful or not, the smirking, sardonic title only serves as a red herring. Noun: A mechanism with a spring and toothed gearwheels, used to drive a mechanical clock, toy, or other device. Mechanical? Please not another Era Vulgaris. Sure, that record was a brutish, thumping rocker but it was a few furlongs short of a runaway success – propulsive and dynamic but without soul or – seemingly – purpose. Inside …Like Clockwork, though, the listener is invited to a sonic landscape both pleasantly passive and cruelly depraved. With the exception of the bombastic “My God is the Sun”, Homme’s rampaging guitar is set far lower in the mix than in their Songs for the Deaf years, and more focus is given to melodic piano tunes, with a stronger emphasis on subtlety and empathy than QOTSA have ever suggested they possess. The cause? The departure of the robotic limbs of drummer Joey Castillo is the prime suspect; without the mechanical pulverising he brought to the table, the band have decided to take a breath, and for this record at least, it’s nix on the headbanging and no more air guitar. However, what makes …Like Clockwork more than just another composition-by-consensus album is that the appeal lies in the inconsistency; for instance, the two apexes of the album’s potency are hugely contrasting. The irresistibly sickly-sweet falsetto of the lugubrious title track sits more than a little awkwardly next to the strangely endearing macho-arrogance of “Smooth Sailing”, but one’s potency just can’t bloom fully without comparison to the other.

…Like Patchwork would perhaps be a more apt name for an album of such mismatched juxtaposition, and it appears to stem from Homme having begun to incorporate a number of new influences into his sound without really harnessing them fully before release. While obvious QOTSA trademarks are there (the line ‘I blow my load over the status quo, here we go!’ pretty much says it all), there is an undeniable influence from 1970s jam-rock and psychedelia, the aforementioned title track acting as the showpiece, complete with a sudden burst into a calculated, careful jam session at the halfway point that sounds unsettlingly like a lost Pink Floyd cut – and the same can certainly be said of the somnambulant “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” and the lengthy dirge “I Appear Missing”. However, even this is thankfully more studied and charismatic than anything that belched its way out of Era Vulgaris, and manages to restrain its inner monster to a mere foot-tap rather than a fully fledged mental breakdown.

Unfortunately, this also means that it gets caught in two minds between the insane and the divine, and thus one thing must be noted about …Like Clockwork: it is awfully gloomy. Eight of the ten tracks here are in a minor key, and nearly all are performed with a subdued, remorseful melancholy. The constant sound of apologetic apathy, in Homme’s vocals in particular, becomes almost oppressively bleak at times, with each line sounding more like a rephrasing of ‘we’re all doomed’ than the last. From the needle hitting the record to the runout groove, the album is a non-stop expedition of misery, not an album to lift the spirits of the downhearted. However, if you’re that loudmouth happy-go-lucky type we all love to hate – turn off the lights, sit down with a beer, crack on …Like Clockwork and embrace the inner charm in remembering how futile your life is.

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