Josh Homme. Everyone’s cool uncle. Used to be a bit of a hellraiser. You’re mum laughs as she tells you how he used to be ferried home by the police/turn up to the house drunk/disappear on a bender for weeks on end. He’s settled down now though. Got a wife and kids.
Like Clockwork is Queens of the Stone Age‘s sixth album proper, but that precludes Homme’s extracurricular work, which stretches to some pretty prolific music writing in many varying different projects. Queens soundtracked many a man of a certain ages late teens/early twenties, and it was fucking GLORIOUS! Rated R and Songs For The Deaf were big, intimidating peaks for Josh Homme and collaborators. Those two records embedded themselves into people’s lives. ‘The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret’ found itself ear worming its way onto daytime radio. ‘No One Knows’ became the song every band blasted into at the start of a rehearsal.
…Like Clockwork comes six years after the well meaning, but ultimately disappointing Era Vulgaris. A quick scan through some press duty stuff illustrates all was not rosy in the Queens garden during the interim, this record apparently being born out of much procrastination, aborted attempts to make as well as plenty of inter-band “stuff”. So, was the wait worth it? Was there any great demand for another QOTSA record? Well, yes. …Like Clockwork is not an easy record to love. It took me the best part of a week to crack beneath the surface sheen, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but there’s an uneven strain running throughout that may cause many to abandon it after very little time at all.
It’s worth mentioning the presentation at this point, which is impeccable. I bought the big, vinyl collectors edition and it is truly a thing of beauty. The artwork and accompanying animated shorts the band have released on the run up to the records release have been fantastic, and are extremely effective at creating an “in” for the listener.
So, what of the record? Well, it’s a mixed bag. There are many guests, in fact, when I bought said vinyl the first friend who saw I had it asked who was guesting on the album. As you probably now know, Elton John, Dave Grohl, Alex Turner, Mark Lanegan and Trent Reznor all lend a hand at some point. One of the great strengths of Homme is and indeed has been to coral the talent he has working with him at any given time. Originally envisioned as being an open door/revolving lineup deal, many musicians have lent their hand to Queens records yet their input has been carefully crafted to mix into the whole. Here is no different really. You would be hard pressed to pick out who does what and where without referring back to the liner notes, certainly on a first listen.
‘Keep Your Eyes Peeled’ is a left field opener, but a strong one. Its shifting focus and careful build are indicative of the intent behind much of the album. The songwriting on display is layered and varied throughout, though there is little in the way of a standout, not in the way that we are used to with a QOTSA record. ‘My God Is The Sun’, which is the most instant thing on there, and the one song I can recall from memory straight away even after a good week or so of listening, is the closest you’ll get to a ‘Go With The Flow’ or ‘Little Sister’. This is not necessarily a bad thing, with …Like Clockwork being arguably QOTSA‘s most consistent album, albeit one which zigzags through many twists and turns. There’s a new found focus in the songwriting which is hugely encouraging, and a variety of influences on display that has never been so explicitly explored before. ‘The Vampyre Of Time And Memory’ sounds not unlike an Aimee Mann/Magnolia track, whilst the title track is a gorgeous (GORGEOUS) showcase for Josh Homme‘s vocals and a tremendous album closer.
It’s a shame so much of the album slips by with little impact. ‘I Sat By The Ocean’, ‘Fairweather Friends’ and ‘If I Had A Tail’ feel like dumbed down retreads of finer moments. ‘If I had a Tail’ in particular lands with a thud, a song which eeks into territory rarely occupied by the band, dullness. The slinky funk of ‘Smooth Sailing’ which features the immortal line “I blow my load over the satus quo”, is fun but disappointingly lightweight. The rest however is consistently strong. ‘Kalopsia’ with its lilting carnival melody and crunching chorus and images of “black balloons” is a highlight, as is ‘I Appear Missing’ which leads the album, along with the aforementioned title track, into a fine close.
Ultimately, …Like Clockwork is the product of a prolonged and fractured recording process and it shows. It is as hugely enjoyable as it is incredibly frustrating. Where once they raged down the motorway on a full tank of petrol, they’re now getting by on fumes, certainly for long stretches. At least a third of the album plods where it should soar. There is, however, much to love. It just takes time. There are at least two moments which rank amongst Queens‘ finest, which is no mean feat, and where initially it seems disparate and incoherent, you do warm to just how all over the place it is. A fine mess of a thing to be sure, but definitely worth investigating if you’ve ever held a special place in your heart for Homme and co.
Words: Chris Anderson