Queens Of The Stone Age have long been an established outfit, bursting onto the scene in 1998 with their riff-orientated, stoner rock which blended catchy melodies and heavy guitar-work with irresistible panache. Spearheaded by frontman Josh Homme, they have developed into one of the most innovative and well-connected bands of the 21st century. ‘…Like Clockwork’ represents their first effort since 2007’s rather dispirited ‘Era Vulgaris’, and in that six-year interval, Josh Homme had undergone life-threatening hospitalisation, deep depression, bandmate departures, supergroup formation and life-affirming parenthood, before QOTSA revitalised themselves by re-releasing their debut album, embarking on an extensive comeback tour and re-entering the studio. It is therefore no surprise that recording for their sixth LP did not commence until August 2012, despite being mooted back in 2008.
Rehearsals for the debut album tour were conducted alongside the sessions for this album, and the former seemingly influenced the latter, with Homme commenting “doing the rehearsals for the first record is really defining the new one. It’s been turning the new record into something else”. Meanwhile, as studio work began in earnest, the latest incarnation of this constantly revolving band was settling into place. Their drummer, Joey Castillo, departed the band partway through, despite participating in four songs, to be replaced for sessions by Foo Fighters’ chief and long-term companion Dave Grohl, rekindling the association from the ‘Songs Of The Deaf’ era, but it was John Theodore from The Mars Volta, who would occupy the vacant drum seat for live performances. Other album contributors included Screaming Trees’ vocalist Mark Lanegan, former QOTSA bassists Nick Oliveri and Alain Johannes, Nine Inch Nails’ mastermind Trent Reznor, Scissor Sisters’ singer Jake Shears, The Distillers’ guitarist Brody Dale, Arctic Monkeys’ leader Alex Turner, Unkle’s DJ James Lavelle and even Sir Elton John. From an outsider’s perspective, it would appear Homme has exploited his industry prominence to lavishly assemble a plethora of high-profile names in order to ensure this album does not follow the same overblown, one-dimensional trajectory of its predecessor. This assumption over an altered direction could be deemed initially accurate, especially when one considers that this album embodies an exodus from major record label Interscope to the indie Matador, thereby inviting a distinctly left-field foray.
Album opener ‘Keep Your Eyes Peeled’ is a slow-burning, droning number with slightly psychedelic and industrial undertones. Early pace-setter ‘I Sat By The Ocean’ certainly livens up the eerie mood straightaway with its captivating and dynamic guitar groove combined with enticing vocal hooks, therefore defining it as a remarkably accessible stand-out track. The album follows another sharp and dark twist with ‘The Vampyre Of Time And Memory’, which begins with a simple voice and piano arrangement before progressing into a fully-fledged, power ballad dripping with reflective feelings of angst and lament. ‘If I Had A Tail’ ensues, introducing a more light-hearted and upbeat vibe, whilst incorporating a guitar-driven crescendo. ‘My God Is The Sun’ is unleashed with an explosion of sound characterised by pummelling guitar, muscular bass and pounding drums, which all merge effectively to conjure up a pulsating, high-tempo song as the album approaches it’s halfway point. Next up is ‘Kalopsia’, which seemingly serves up a gentle and ambient filler to offer a degree of respite before brawny guitars intercede the moments of serenity. Accelerando and Rallentando arrangements pervade ‘Fairweather Friends’ providing it with an intricately-crafted oscillating style. The aptly-named ‘Smooth Sailing’ fuses meandering and overlapping guitar lines with prominent Homme falsetto to generate a refined yet gritty textural assault. This album’s epic ‘I Appear Missing’, clocking in at just over six minutes, features spiralling guitar patterns along with alluring and grandiloquent harmonies. QOTSA’s sixth effort draws to a close with title track ‘Like Clockwork’, which includes subdued piano chords and acoustic guitar, and later an array of majestic strings to bring the curtain down in a pertinent manner.
‘…Like Clockwork’ is undoubtedly a return to form for QOTSA, seemingly justifying the six-year wait and restoring faith to their fanbase. Perhaps what is most impressive is Homme’s innate ability to venture further into uncharted territory without completely discarding the band’s recognised staple sound. With a mere ten tracks, this album is tightly-produced and concise, thereby eliminating any unnecessary excess which might have diluted previous releases. It is potentially QOTSA’s most conceptually and sonically ambitious record to date, a statement substantiated by how it is permeated by sheer professionalism, creative ingenuity and brooding maturity. QOTSA have set down a bold marker with this entertaining offering and one can only anticipate, barring the intervention of even more side-projects, that they propel themselves back into the limelight sooner rather than later.