Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Queens Of The Stone Age Skip Death

Josh Homme
Josh Homme was talking about a sixth Queens Of The Stone Age (a.k.a. QOTSA or Queens) album well before starting Them Crooked Vultures with John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl. Even so, most people assumed that Queens would take a back seat as this new band earned ample acclaim.

But before Vultures could set a date for their second album, Queens released its remastered debut and Homme lent his talents to The Mark Lanegan Band, a session that foreshadowed things to come. Grohl, Alain Johannes, Elton John, Mark Lanegan, James Lavelle, Nick Oliveri, Trent Reznor, Jake Shears, Alex Turner, and others contribute to the new album Like Clockwork, setting the stage for what some think of as a cyclical nature of music. The Homme sun dial is pointing at Queens for now.

Along with those guests (and Joey Castillo before he left), the new Queens lineup includes Troy Van Leeuwen (guitars), Dean Fertita (keys), Michael Shuman (bass), and Jon Theodore (drums). If you imagine that all these names might make Like Clockwork sound eclectic, you would be right. It's manic, with most of its inspiration drawn from a near-death experience.

Like Clockwork rolls in like a daze and out like a fog. 

There is an ever-present black hearted edge to everything, but mostly Like Clockwork is an exercise in Homme becoming a better songwriter. The opener, Keep Your Eyes Peeled, couldn't make it more obvious and Homme second guesses reality. You could plant a tombstone next to his perspective.

The second riff-ripe track, I Sat By The Ocean, is all about heartbreak. It might even be a well-deserved heartbreak but Homme makes the case we can feel for him anyway. Another more creative take on the song is that the lover is death, with a lament in that it didn't take him. It left him embarrassed instead, trying to find what was important in life even though most people assumed he already knew. 

If that sounds bleak, then consider The Vampyre Of Time And Memory. It was the first song Homme wrote in a little shack that he had converted into a home studio after his wife told him to go write whatever he wanted. He didn't even like the song at first pass. She told him not to care. 

It's songs like Vampyre and the title track, Like Clockwork, that channel what he was feeling after the experience and into recovery. He is sort of a lost soul in some ways, attempting to assign it some meaning and yet struggling to find it. The refrain is unforgettable. 

This is easily the dreariest album ever put together by Homme, but there a few familiarities to Queens as well as vintage rock arrangements. Part of that is by design. Much as he felt like starting over on uncertain footing, music has restarts too. Homme is pretty good at catching the front end of them.

Although all the melody and moodiness is great, the album kicks everything up a notch with My God Is The Sun. The track is faster with a quicker tempo. Kalopsia is another show stopper with its lullaby opening and big bristling transition. The song hints at what happened. Things are prettier than they appear. 

The epic Fairweather Friends, the derail in Smooth Sailing, and the unexpected climax in I Appear Missing are all variants of harshly unsettling alternative rock. Each of them lends something more exciting to the overall experience. Things began to move again for Homme after he came to terms with the idea that most of what he thought was important wasn't so anymore. 

Like Clockwork By QOTSA Skip 8.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

There really isn't too much out there like this album. Sure, some of the arrangements are familiar and everyone who contributed blends in like their tracks, mixed with a blur tool. In doing so, Homme gets the album he needed to make and everyone else gets props for helping him make it. When you really take the time to listen in, it's the lyrics and vocals that will turn your world around like it did his. 

...Like Clockwork by Queens Of The Stone Age can be found on Amazon. You can also download the album from iTunes or order Like Clockwork from Barnes & Noble. QOTSA has been dropping large sets of tour dates on Facebook, sometimes as many as 12 at a time. It's a big tour. Watch for it. The iTunes edition, by the way, was mastered for the format.
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