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Monday, December 23, 2013

Albums of the Year - #4: Queens of the Stone Age - "...Like Clockwork"

Rating: 9.4/10

If there's one man today who does guitar-rock right every time, it's Josh Homme. The QOTSA vocalist/guitarist/mastermind is one of the most consistently excellent musicians in the business, and ...Like Clockwork was no exception. A behemoth in terms of sound and raw power, the new record is jam-packed with crisp guitar licks, dynamic drumming, and slick vocal hooks. There are also several cameos here, and none of them feel forced. Former band members Nick Olivieri and Mark Lanegan contribute backing vocals on "If I Had A Tail," along with Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner. Dave Grohl, who played drums on all of 2002's Songs for the Deaf, sits in behind the kit on four different tracks. Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor helps out on "Kalopsia," and even Sir Elton John gets in on the action, singing and playing piano on "Fairweather Friends." The sheer volume of musicians who go out of their way to help make a Queens of the Stone Age album says a lot about how talented and friendly Homme is.

However, ...Like Clockwork isn't an album just about names. It's also about ten striking, fantastically written and produced rock songs. "Keep Your Eyes Peeled" starts everything off with a creepy guitar rumble and echo-y vocals. Homme shouts during the chorus, "if life is but a dream/wake me up." The clever lyric clearly sets the tone for the track, one of dissatisfaction and desperation. "If I Had A Tail" is an equally unsettling song, as a chorus of backing vocals from those mentioned above cry out in a tortured call of "oh-oh." The production work ups the ante, as the guitars morph from imminent to confrontational in a split-second. A disquieting, raspy whisper comes in after the instrumentals fade, warning "we will control the fight."

While darkness and fear play a role in the record, so do space and beauty. "Kalopsia," the Reznor-featured track, features a sweet steel guitar riff and wide-open wash of subtle synths during the verses. The album credits lists Homme as playing "air" here as well, which is the likely source of the ambient background noise. The title track leans heavily on piano as Homme cries, "everyone it seems/has somewhere to go." Additionally, "The Vampyre of Time and Memory" contains a old-timey piano part that acts as a foundation for the rest of the song.

Though the occasional break from the noise is nice, ...Like Clockwork thrives when opting for loud over quiet. No track indicates this better than the wall-smashing lead single, "My God Is the Sun." From the envigorating opening riff, to the wildly energetic drums, to a thundering bass line, this song has it all. Both the verse and chorus pack a punch as the track climbs higher and higher before the brief breakdown near the finish. Homme delivers one of his best-ever vocal performances, ranging from low growl to high-pitched howl. "I Sat By The Ocean" is one of the bluesier works on the record, as a dual guitar riff works wonders. "I Appear Missing" is the longest track at six minutes, but fills the space proficiently.

Like other albums earlier on this countdown, ...Like Clockwork represents an excellently made, slightly off-kilter "guitar rock" record. It's a pretty outstanding return for Queens of the Stone Age, coming six years after the disappointing (though still above-average) Era Vulgaris. Homme, now forty years old and recently recovered from a life-threatening sugery complication, has crafted some of his best-ever work on ...Like Clockwork, and here's to hoping he continues to put out great music well into the forseeable future.

Key Tracks: "I Sat By The Ocean," "The Vampyre of Time and Memory," "If I Had A Tail," "My God Is The Sun"

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