For Queens of the Stone Age and leadman Josh Homme, the band he’s fronted has always maintained a revolving door of members. Never one to truly solidify his outfit and also a musician who has a couple of side projects (Them Crooked Vultures, Eagles of Death Metal) of his own, the quality of Queens of the Stone Age’s material has always been an equally righteous aspect. On their fifth album, Era Vulgaris, Homme turned to a more relentless and rocking affair but six years apart, it felt like a very long time since that last album. Now, with Dave Grohl back on drums (last playing drums on Songs for the Deaf) and with a clear-headed, cohesive style intact, …Like Clockwork makes a strong declaration as Queens of the Stone Age’s finest album.
With these line-up changes (reports state that Homme fired long-time drummer Joey Castillo a third into the recording process) and the personal issues Homme battled with (a knee surgery that went wrong, leaving him sidelined for almost half a year), it’s exceptional just how tight and consistent everything is on …Like Clockwork. On “I Sat by the Ocean,” Homme and Co. settle back into a cozy cadence that finds the guitar on high and the pulse at a steady motion. Welcoming the dark side once again – Era Vulgaris was a much more comedic affair – the ten songs on here bristle with a tenaciously forceful message. The album is filled with the murky fog that comes from making hard decisions and from going through life’s struggles but as Homme put it best, he could either run from it or run into it. In turn, the music crashes in and around of focus with a tantalizingly gripping motion of pace and delivery.
There was a lot of darkness on 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze – something like “Tangled Up in Plaid” featured some of the best stark piano to genuinely paralyze a focused listener – but that album’s fourteen tracks were a lot to take in and the band wasted little time in recording the follow-up with Era Vulgaris just two years later. The long break from there to the recording process of …Like Clockwork seems to have done both Homme and the band well, as the songs sparkle with a finesse and muscularity that lacked on the previous release. “Fairweather Friends” features contributions from everyone like Trent Reznor, to ex-bassist Nick Oliver, to Elton John but with Homme’s sweet-sung vocals at the foreground, the music is like a long lost Led Zeppelin song. And earlier, on “If I Had a Tail,” the roaring chorus is nothing short of a breakthrough at the heart of the album. With the help of Alex Turner, the two sing about tearing through the fake city in a primal soar of rejection.
But those aforementioned hard decisions do little to discourage Homme as he packs the music with a heart on sleeves demeanor that suits these ten songs fashionably well. Even the softer moments, like the closing title track, are filled with true grit and a heartfelt passion. The title of the album comes from the recording of it and how the band seemed to take two steps forward before a misstep – they ultimately realized it all felt like clockwork. This song ironically showcases how not everything that goes around, comes back around and Homme decorates it with a solemn piano and strings before the crashing guitars and drums take advantage. And earlier, on “The Vampyre of Time and Memory,” Homme takes the piano main stage as he laments about how nothing ever seems to really work, in love and war. This is before the boisterous of the night on the aforesaid “If I Had a Tail,” so he definitely gets to let the frustration run loose, but for this song, he can present a somber tone to tell his story of being alone in a crowd.
And in the end, that’s the beauty of …Like Clockwork: in terms of consistent cohesiveness, it shines unlike many others. There are going to be other albums that rock harder like Queens of the Stone Age have done so in the past, and there are going to be other albums that yearn for a harsher drive than this one, but there aren’t going to be finer listens than you will find on this one. It’s the kind of album we critics tritely refer to as a return to form but with the massively remarkable beast that …Like Clockwork royally is, never has the phrase been more fitting.