It has been a long while since QOTSA have released an album, the last being Era Vulgaris. Possibly one of the most anticipated albums (the other being Daft Punk) of this year. The band became teasing the album back late 2012 and followed it up with cryptic art and messages to magazines and publishers.
The band confirmed the album title and release date and more info came. Earlier in May they began to release promotional videos with artwork by Boneface. They eventually formed a full 15 minute video that looped round and told the deaths of 4 nameless characters. You can view it at likeclockwork.com
(PS Apologies in advance for the narrated heavy review. I’ve tried to keep it lively by including some pictures, videos and interview quotes. A spattering of media to tantalise the senses. Or some shit, how should I know.)
Anyway how does the album stack up? Well…
It culminates with “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” featuring Jake Shears. You hear the sound of breaking glass as a distorted piano kicks in. It is dirge and heavy at first, a honky piano follows the melody. It is raining heavy metal. About half way through, the distorted process drum sound of Era Vulgaris rears its head. The track turns with wild stereo vocals, a funkier bass line that climbs and descends like Sisyphus, never hitting the top and staying there. The track ends with a cello/strings and it works quite well. This album is more gloom orientated and this track is the best example of that to open it up.
“I Sat By The Ocean” features some classic Homme Octave/Ring Mod guitar tone at the beginning and a slide guitar doubling the leader. The first line ‘I sat by the ocean, drinking a potion to erase you…’ is talking about some lost love of Josh’s or a character of the album who wants to delete them from their memory. The track is standard QOTSA format, with the brief bridge solo. It ends with a lingering reverb vocal and an organ that joins the next track.
“The Vampyre of Time and Memory” begins with a beehive synth ripped from a Wendy Carlos soundtrack back in the 70s. A slower tempo’d stepping stone for the album. The lyrics again refer back to some lost Lenore of Josh’s perhaps, he echoes that he ‘Feels no love’. It is almost like he is bitter about something.
Next up is a track that has a few live outings recently, “If I Had A Tail”, a cruising verse with a disco beat. There is a particularly gnashing guitar that is ran under an auto filter of some sort to give it the bite. Similar to Songs for the Deaf the album features some interlude clips and as such “If I Had A Tail” ends with distorted vocals before being into lead single…
“My God Is The Sun”, moderately tempo’d, catchy chorus, reminiscent of Songs For The Deaf era work. It is a little bit more soundtrack based at times and serves well as the lead single from album. Dave Grohl heads drums for this track and while never attempting anything overly flamboyant, it was noticeably Dave, possibly why I thought it reminded me more of the Songs for the Deaf era. Full of stop starts, at one point leaving just some quiet percussion before the song goes back into overdrive. Simple repeated chorus line to grab the fans at the concert, culminating in a funeral march mantra. Again more end soundscapes before heading into…
“Kalopsia” begins very unlike the previous tracks, with a panned breathy noise (which returns in the track later on). Featuring a drum machine, a piano, clean guitar and synth bass at a largo pace, it is very unlike the rest of the band’s work. A touch of Albatross in the beginning, at least that was the image conveyed for me. Screeching, it explodes with full power chord guitars and a high frequency whine like a broken amp or TV, it then returns to the opening mood. This is my pick of the litter. The contrast of the solemn verse with lyrics about denial and saying goodbye to beauty with the somewhat more happy sounding manic chords with lyrics about how shit it all really is when you look closer.
Featuring an array of guest musicians is “Fairweather Friends”. I won’t list them here (they are in the track list). Beginning with chanting voices, it has a fuzz fused guitar, slightly Ennio Morricone intro. The various guest vocalists are slightly underwhelming as they feel a little undistinguished, blending together at times. A piano sits at the back of the track during the chorus, the chant returns hidden in the right channel. Elton John’s addition of repeating the title adds to the track. The rhythm is slightly askew at times. This is a less obvious song, definitely a grower. It ends with a weird spring reverb on a guitar amp breaking up, possibly through a delay.
The lyrics refer to the title, with this line perfectly summing up a Fairweather Friend, “When the sun has gone so are, well, so are you”.
“Smooth Sailing”, like a funk driven with a garage guitar tone. It has disco drums, flailing bass and filtered guitars. At first it could be seen as simple, but the intersecting distorted wah guitars is delightful and playful to the ears, never quite consistent. The bass drum on this song thuds like no other. There is a section that is bizarre sounding, a swamp of over tones and arpeggio guitars.
I Appear Missing was previewed in the promo videos leading up to the release. I’m stuck with what to say about this one. The drums accented the guitar licks and it is a more familiar QOTSA sound. There is a false stop midway that works well. Featuring heavy whammy pedal use towards the end it connects the album to the logical conclusion of…
Like Clockwork opens with piano that is slightly de-tuning itself; Josh salters over in falsetto. The slowest song and a typical but necessary closer, you would not want to confuse the listener. In the chorus, an acoustic guitar and string arrangement join in. The lyrics pertain about it being ‘all down hill’. A sense of irony in that the album is called Like Clockwork as well as the song, yet both struggle to run like clockwork in the traditional sense. The album was a struggle initially and the song refers more to the typical life perpetuating, instead of the idea of something running smoothly. Capping off the album, leaving us to re-consider Queens of the Stone Age.
The album could be accused of never straying too far away from what Queens are known for, however the song writing and Josh’s performance has gone up a notch. The times that I think the band most succeed is where they do tread some new feeling and sounds, such as in Kalopsia and Smooth Sailing. Yet they are not repeating and rehashing old work.
What is disappointing is the album is mixed fairly well, but it is compressed a fair bit and thus suffers a lack of punch. However most QOTSA have this unfortunate side effect, and whilst at times I see the appeal as it can make tracks seem dangerously aggressive, it seems a tad lazy to not space it out a little. A small grievance.
The album is focussed and has a sense of thorough structuring, a concoction of the best QOTSA moments to unleash something tantalising and still mysterious. Whilst the lyrics do not always stretch the imagination and the album isn’t a math rock piece or anything too challenging, it is it devious simplicity, incredible hook lines, mantra like ability that grabs you. It is layered with piano, bee hive synths and distorted drums. Cross path guitars entering from all angles and wonky solos that character it and make it distinct. It is the proof that the band are rightly where they belong. I’d recommend to the avid rock head. Each track is characterised well and it is noisy as hell, what more can you ask for this album?
1. “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” (featuring Jake Shears) 5:04
2. “I Sat by the Ocean” 3:55
3. “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” 3:34
4. “If I Had a Tail” (featuring Alex Turner, Nick Oliveri and Mark Lanegan) 4:55
5. “My God Is the Sun” 3:55
6. “Kalopsia” (featuring Trent Reznor) 4:38
7. “Fairweather Friends” (featuring Elton John, Trent Reznor, Nick Oliveri, Mark Lanegan, Alain Johannes, and Brody Dalle) 3:43
8. “Smooth Sailing” 4:51
9. “I Appear Missing” 6:01
10. “…Like Clockwork” 5:24
Josh Homme – lead vocals, guitar, backing vocals, twelve string guitar (“I Appear Missing”), slide guitar (“I Appear Missing”)
Troy Van Leeuwen – guitar, backing vocals, percussion, keyboard, twelve string guitar (tracks 5 and 9), lap steel (“Kalopsia”)
Dean Fertita – keyboard, guitar, backing vocals, percussion, piano (“Kalopsia”)
Michael Shuman – bass, backing vocals, keyboard (“Kalopsia”)
Dave Grohl – drums, percussion (all tracks except 1, 2, 6, and 10)
Joey Castillo – drums, percussion on “Kalopsia”, “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” and “I Sat by the Ocean”
Jon Theodore – drums, percussion on “…Like Clockwork”
Nick Oliveri – vocals on “If I Had a Tail” and “Fairweather Friends”
Mark Lanegan – vocals on “If I Had a Tail” and “Fairweather Friends”
Alex Turner – vocals, guitar on “If I Had a Tail”, lyrics on “Kalopsia”
Trent Reznor – “Fairweather Friends” and “Kalopsia”
Jake Shears – vocals on “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”
Sir Elton John – piano, vocals on “Fairweather Friends”
Brody Dalle – vocals
Josh Homme & Queens of the Stone Age – production
Boneface – design, illustrations
Liam Brazier – animation for promo videos
Mark Rankin- recording and mixing