Album Review: Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork (2013 LP)

Ever since Queens of the Stone Age released their acclaimed record Songs For The Deaf in 2002, which took the underground band to the attention of the world, it would be fair to say the band have struggled to reach similar levels of acclaim. Lullabies to Paralyze, released in 2005, showed that the band were able to deliver a fantastic record in spite of the pressure instilled on them after the success of Deaf – though it wasn’t as widely praised. Two years later we were greeted with Era Vulgaris, an fairly inconsistent album which ultimately disappointed many fans, myself included.

It’s not that the music wasn’t good, it just didn’t pack the same punch that the band had been producing in the past. A hiatus following an attempt in 2008 at delivering a follow up to Vulgaris was telling that the band needed a bit of time away from the spotlight to regain some of their creative energies. And what happened between then and now is telling of why the band’s latest record, the long awaited …Like Clockwork, has been produced the way it has. Firstly, we can look at Josh – he heralded back to his Desert Sessions origins by locking himself up with some of his favourite musicians and seeing what would come out.

The result was Them Crooked Vultures and an album which saw Dave Grohl, Homme and the legendary John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin produce a record that was as self indulgent as it was entertaining and critically acclaimed. For both Dave and Josh, this was a chance to get some music out of their system that they wouldn’t have been able to within their more popular projects, and in the process remind them all why they made music in the first place. To jam with their friends.

Having the chance to speak to both Dave and Josh on this tour, they truly seemed renewed. They were having more fun than ever before and were looking at getting back into the studio to record another Vultures record. Though this didn’t end up happening, Dave ended up working on a documentary and producing the Foo Fighters’ best record in over a decade. Josh, meanwhile, continued to reconnect with his early career, briefly touring Rated R on a re-issue, and performing on a lengthier tour to celebrate a re-mastered re-issue of the band’s debut self-titled release. Though that touring period ultimately ended with the departure of long-time drummer Joey Castillo, it heralded the beginning of a new era for the band. They were ready to get back into the studio and finally record some new material.

The process would be unchanged from the past: Homme would invite some of his “Fairweather Friends” into the recording studio and produce a series of tracks that would go on to form the band’s first record in six years …Like Clockwork, which will be released in Australia on May 31st. When you account for the band’s time away from the studio, Josh’s time with Them Crooked Vultures and their reconnection with their earliest material – not to mention the guests they had invited on board for the album – it would be fair to say that the anticipation for this record to achieve greatness was high. I am pleased to report that they have not let us down.

…Like Clockwork is easily the band’s finest record since Songs For The Deaf, achieving similar levels of energy, with several tracks on the album as good as, if not better than the band has ever produced, while the rest of the album moves along at a steady pace, showing a focus from the band not just to produce great music, but to end up with a finely tuned album that shows off a more mature band who are enjoying making music more than ever.

To assist in this process, as is typical of the Queens of the Stone Age way, Homme has invited a huge number of special guests to appear on the album – possibly more than ever before. Most notable is the return of Dave Grohl, whose power on the drums is noticeable on every track he plays; though unfortunately he won’t be hitting the road with the band, with that duty going to Castillo’s official replacement, Jon Theodore, who drums on the album’s closing track “…Like Clockwork”.

Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys makes a notable appearance on tracks “If I Had a Tail” and “Kalopsia”, while the album kicks off, surprisingly, with Scissor Sister’s Jack Shears backing Josh up on “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”. It’s on the aforementioned “Fairweather Friends”, a track which comically ends with Homme’s exclamation ‘I don’t give a sh*t about them anyhow…’ that we find the most star-studded appearances. Elton John, Trent Reznor, Nick Oliveri, Mark Lanegan, Alain Johannes, and Brody Dalle all appear on the track, with Oliveri’s appearance perhaps being the most unexpected given the history of Homme with the former QOTSA bassist. Though it’s Elton John on piano and vocals that steals the song. And perhaps more fascinating than anything is the story behind John’s inclusion on the record, that went something like this: John called Homme and advised him that he needed an “actual queen” for the band’s next release. Who could say no to that? He is a knighted queen, after all.

So how can you have an album that features so many guests, yet still comes off as a cohesive piece? Well, we have some excellent production to thank for that. The album flows beautifully from start to finish and it’s this strength that helps it sit so high on the review score ladder. It’s focused musically, lyrically and even when John’s voice is at its most prominent in “…Friends” it is distorted enough by the influence of Reznor to conceal it on first listen; it never steers away from the Queens brand.

The same can be said for “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”; were it not in the liner notes I wouldn’t have known Jake Shears was involved. But it’s the combined influence of the notes and voices of Homme’s collaborators that is, at its heart, what has always made Queens of the Stone Age such a beautiful beast. Homme and his musical counterparts are able to weave their way through the mountains of desert and stoner rock and produce an album that is every bit the Queens of the Stone Age we fell in love with.

Inviting some friends over to make music. Maybe getting lost in the desert for a little while. Dancing to Motorhead. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s the secret to Queen of the Stone Age’s success, and the result in the case of …Like Clockwork is one of the finest rock albums we’ll surely come across this year. I haven’t stopped listening to it since it landed on my desk.

The highlights of the record are “Fairweather Friends”, the exquisitely written “I Say by the Ocean” and “Smooth Sailing” which remind me of some of the band’s earliest material, the beautiful “The Vampyre Of Time And Memory”, the trippy “My God Is the Sun” and my favourite on the record “Kalopsia”, another of Reznor’s influences, which starts slow but ends as one of the most powerful numbers on the record (that last 30 seconds never hesitates to send chills down my spine). But to be honest, it’s even difficult to narrow the record down to those few – it’s just that good. It’s terribly exciting to have Homme and his friends back at the top of their game. Here’s hoping it’s not this long between drinks next time.

Review Score: 9.3 out of 10

Stream the album now here:

Queens Of The Stone Age …Like Clockwork will be released in Australia this Friday May 31st via Matador / Remote Control.

The band are expected to tour Australia in early 2014.

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.