Label: Matador Records
First of all, I have to direct two things concerning this review: 1) It’s late, why? Because this review has been daunting me ever since the album was released… because there is so much to say about it. You really could write an essay on it. I’ve started a review on this album twice before and ended up deleting them out of frustration. 2) I usually have a set layout for my reviews, but this one will be different. I won’t be giving a brief history on Queens Of The Stone Age, Josh Homme and everything else related to this release because, let’s be honest, you’ve probably at least got a good grasp on it already.
So shall we just get into it? Yeah? Yeah.
First of all, “…Like Clockwork” sees the band head into a different direction yet again. It’s no “Songs For The Deaf” and it’s no “Era Vulgaris” – so whatever expectations you may have been anticipating will probably be off the mark. This release is a dark and extremely sombre venture into heartbreak and the tiredness of living in a vulture-esque society; at least lyrically. As for the instrumental side of things, Josh Homme has really pushed his songwriting skills to new depths, reaching unexplored levels in QOTSA’s life so far.
One of the main things you notice with the album is not just the stunning names that are featured on it, but how they’re used too. You’d think that it would be easy to seperate the vocals of Trent Reznor and Elton John, but this is not the case. While Trent Reznor is one of the more recognisable vocalists outside of the QOTSA line-up, the way the guest vocals are utilised is brilliant: there’s no sense of the ‘look-who-I’m-friends-with’ that often comes with guest appearances; but the combination and flavouring of vocals for the sake of the mood and the music. It’s a mature approach that’s often overlooked in exchange for drawing in a bigger audience.
As for tracks, you can expect some of that good twangy and slide guitar from previous efforts. I Sat By The Ocean is a prime example with its opening slide guitar licks and the opening lines “I sat by the ocean / And drank a potion baby to erase you / Face down in the boulevard / Yet I couldn’t face you” delivered with Homme’s confident delivery gives you a feel-good summer vibe; which is reinforced as the track goes on. The end of each chorus is just a burst of energy too, despite its not-so-positive lyrics: “Silence is closer / We’re passing ships in the night”.
Fourth track If I Had A Tail has a brooding and sneering atmosphere with its stompy drums, electrifying keys and Homme’s almost disgusted delivery. The line “Buy flash cars / Diamond rings / Expensive holes to bury things” is a particular favourite moment lyrically, not just in the track, but out of the whole album. The song also ends with haunting snarls laden under echo and quiet in the mix, screaming the chorus “If I had a tail / I’d own the place” before the next track, My God Is The Sun, explodes into its more positive tune. The track holds, it feels at least, a contrived struggle emotion and meaning, especially while the lyrics “Far beyond the desert road / Where everything hangs off / So good the empty space / And to erase, forgive, forgot” sort of clash with the instrumentation, which has a real driving force – something you would blast on your drive under a burning sky.
The following track, Kalopsia, is one of the examples where the use of guest vocals is astounding. In this case it’s Trent Reznor, and his vocals come with a feel of being part of the lacing that ties the song together, rather than being a section of the material itself. Homme mostly goes through the track by himself over the spacey instrumentation of clean guitars and bassy keys/synths, but Reznor bursts in on the chorus, but rarely on his own (only for the first line of the first chorus and in the call-and-response at the end with “As they run”) and both Homme and Reznor mould together, rather than one lead/one support.
The same approach to the vocals is clear in Fairweather Friends too, but this time unifying the vocals of Homme, Mark Lanegan, Trent Reznor, Elton John and Nick Oliveri. During the last half of the track, it’s actually a struggle to define whose vocals is who as they overlap, underlap, come in, leave, back, lead, etc. Smooth Sailing is a far more straightforward affair than the previous tracks and is heavy with the sexual sleaze that QOTSA have done in the past – a fun track overall with its wah-ing guitar and sadistically punishing lyrics/vocals.
I could go on forever but this is all you need to know: this is an extremely mature and fun album. Neither is sacrificed for the other, both are perfectly balanced. The lyrics, overall, are some of they most witty Homme has conjured yet. The instrumentation has a real experimental feel to them in terms of venturing in directions that QOTSA has only licked before. The emotional climax in I Appear Missing is some of the most intense and emotionally charged material I have ever heard QOTSA be, especially during the last few mournful minutes with wailing guitars and fading vocals.
Whether this album retains its extremely high standard, only time can tell, but Homme and co. have reached an astounding and almost tear-jerking level of creativity after churning out classic rock albums for years. Is this the pinnacle of it all? Again, only time will tell… but it wouldn’t be surprising if “…Like Clockwork” reaches hall of fame status; it sure holds the potential at least.