Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
ALREADY a super-group in their own right, Queens of the Stone Age return after a six year hiatus with a new line-up and even more members. But has the wait been worth it? Yes but sometimes no.
Conceived as a sprawling rock epic that is evocative of the sounds of the ’70s, this is a big, brooding effort that will probably delight their starved fans but which sometimes feels weighed down by its own huge ambition.
This is never better exemplified than during the opening two songs, which may well sum up the way you end up feeling about the album as a whole. Opening track Keep Your Eyes Peeled opens amid a looping blues riff and proceeds to drop in some psychedelic elements, as well as a guest vocal from Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears. But it never manages to satisfy as a complete whole and it’s stop-start nature, coupled with the trippy psychedelic elements, make it a curious choice for album starter.
Far, far better and more straight-forward is the classic guitar rock of I Sat By The Ocean, which finds Josh Homme and bassist Michael Shuman sharing vocals, and which combines some thrilling riffs with an easy-going style that’s high on melody. It’s an instantly gratifying listen.
For all its highs and lows, however, it’s still good to have Queens of the Stone Age back. And their new-look is impressive. Bassist Shuman (of Wires on Fire and Mini Mansions fame) and multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita (The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather) have come in, drummer Joey Castillo has departed, but Dave Grohl crops up on several occasions to fill that gap and there’s eye-catching guest support from Elton John, Trent Reznor, Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner and Mark Lanegan to name but a few.
Further album highlights, meanwhile, come in the form of the sprawling The Vampyre of Time and Memory, which slow-builds from a solitary piano and Homme’s Bowie-esque vocal to something quite majestic (complete with a guitar solo that a band like Queen would be proud of).
Former single My God Is The Sun also hits you hard with a no-nonsense, full speed ahead rocker that thrills as only QOTSA know how, barely pausing for breath, while Smooth Sailing is full of bravado and sexuality, the funky riffs and falsetto vocals combining to create arguably the album’s slickest and most radio friendly track (right down to the ZZ Top-esque guitars).
Of the mini rock operas that punctuate proceedings, it’s the Elton John featuring Fairweather Friends that impresses the most… a genuinely operatic opening giving rise to a heady mix of pianos (from John), skyscraping riffs and power drums (from Grohl) that embellish the combined vocals of Homme and John. It’s arguably destined for greatness.
Of the disappointments, however, the Alex Turner featuring Kalopsia flits from being hypnotic, melodic and quiet one verse to heavy and guitar-driven the next. But the mixture of styles never quite satisfies and while aspiring to something like Bohemian Rhapsody, say, it never quite pulls it off.
While I Appear Missing feels wayward and self-indulgent, clocking in at just over six minutes and mixing tempos to theatrical effect. It’s another operatic moment, complete with psychedelic tendencies, that struggles to convince as a whole despite a decent opening.
That said, the album ends well with title track …Like Clockwork easing things to a grand – but unxpectedly calm – close complete with a string arrangement.
Like we said… it’s ambitious. And, for the most part, very good.
Download picks: I Sat By The Ocean, The Vampyre of Time and Memory, Fairweather Friends, Smooth Sailing