There are few albums as shocking, honest, and visceral as …Like Clockwork. Bold, you say? Good, because the sixth album from desert rockers Queens of the Stone Age is the boldest foray into the band’s entire discography. With five good releases, the band has been a staple in alternative rock over the past fifteen years, with excellent albums like Rated R, Songs For The Deaf, and their underrated self-titled debut. Although the band, like any band, has had missteps, …Like Clockwork is inevitably scarred with personal problems from the band’s frontman, Josh Homme.
Homme went in for a knee surgery in 2010. This routine procedure went south, and when they had finished, Homme explained, “I woke up and there was a doctor going, ‘Shit, we lost you.’” This experience affected Homme in more ways than one, and four months later, his bandmates pushed him into the studio to work on new music with Homme stating, “If you want to make a record with me right now, in the state I’m in, come into the fog. It’s the only chance you got.” A tour happened soon after, but had nothing to do with the new tracks. Josh Homme later stated that “”I was hoping that playing… would really inspire me and make me fall in love with music again. But I think I was just lost, looking for something in the dark. In that dark I found ...Like Clockwork.”
Now that the stage has been set, let us begin the play. It starts with slow-burner “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” a chugging, anti-friendly, dreary (I’ll get back to this word later) track of evil. It’s bleak and serves the beginning of this album very well. When the chorus hits up and the guitars undulate with warping, squalling frequencies, you can’t help but feel absolved by the tune. On first listen, it may literally scare you. There are too many abrupt transitions to imply such a feeling. By the time the monster withers away, it’s desolate. So much of this album rests on the soundscapes of the music – where the music takes you is imperative.
“I Sat By The Ocean” reminds one that this band can simply write a wickedly good rock tune, with a solid riff and a great pounding rhythm. Although there’s a distinct effect on the guitar that tries to muddle the simplicity, this track could easily be on any of the band’s albums. It’s a very universal song to fit on the album which will define them for many years to come. “The Vampyre Of Time And Memory” welcomes the darkness again, but Homme throws the guitars away and gets on a piano and haunts us with lyrics like, “You think the worst of all is far behind,” and, “Does anyone ever get this right? / I feel no love.” With a distorted and wailing guitar outro, the song fades away into your soul.
“If I Had A Tail” is probably one of the more perfect tracks on this album, highlighting the band’s desert home and replicating it with heavy, but minimalist riffs. The hook is one of the more memorable ones in the entire band’s catalog, with a rising, physical melody. It punches you with every note and then heads off into more haunting chants and sweeps you into its mighty grip. “Get your hands dirty, roll up them sleeves / Brainwashed or true believers?” spits off Homme. As the track dies down and nearly goes away, you can barely hear Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys croon through a filter.
Shaking it up (with shakers, of course) and kicking it back into familiar territory, the lead single “My God Is The Sun” fires off into the sunset of the frenetic horizon. Incendiary vocals from Homme exude from his heart, and the chorus is one of the highest moments of the album, in terms of energy and excitement. If QOTSA was intending to bring fire to a track that involved the word “sun,” they did it justice and then some. “Kalopsia,” by far the album’s oddball, features Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Although it’s not the first time they’ve collaborated, this is definitely the better track of their work. Oozing painful sorrow and blending incredible wordplay is something of immortals, but Homme here inducts himself with a riotous and emotional moment. Although the track explodes with the chanting sections, “Kalopsia” really shines in the darkness. Homme’s falsetto is transcendental.
“Fairweather Friends” struts its way into the album with a cool guitar intro, but Homme’s falsetto takes hold again, “Is there anyone out there? / Or am I out walking alone?” The track sets its course and takes off with a surprising appearance from Elton John, and, lemme tell you, this is much better than that guest spot with Fall Out Boy. “So what’s it gonna take / To get you back in bed?” croons Homme. Although this track dances all over your brain and does a pirouette on your cerebellum, it’s just not as strong as the rest of the tracks on this album. “Smooth Sailing” is a distorted stoner-funk diatribe, and stomping your foot along with the crushing rhythm, Homme sings, “I got: bruises & hickeys, stitches & scars / Got my own theme music plays where ever I are.” Homme’s lyrics on this one really stick out, with one of this author’s favorite verses in the bridge:
God only knows, so mind your behavior
Follow prescriptions of your loaded savior
Every temple needs gold, like every hook needs to shine
Headaches at the temple of the closed mind
Dreary, bleak, and desolate are the first three words that come to mind when you listen to the absolutely ethereal “I Appear Missing.” Ghost-like in nearly every moment, Drowned In Sound explained after the knee surgery, it “felt like part of him had been left behind on the operating table.” And for this song and especially the next, the part of him left of that table is apparent. Emotionally gripping (When has music ever been this?) and cinematic, “I Appear Missing” will definitely be considered my many one of the best songs the rock world has seen in a long time. “It’s only falling in love before you hit the ground,” is how Homme ends the first part of this wonderfully insane song. The second half mirrors the first half, but adds more bass and different lyrics. In Homme’s falsetto, “I never loved anything until I loved you,” echoes over the fading, epic outro. There’s something so utterly unique and distinct about the ending to this song. The proper words to describe this are hard to find. (I’m a 19 year-old music journalist, and I cannot simply put words to the ending of “I Appear Missing.”) “Wholly remarkable,” as Douglas Adams once wrote.
Most of what you see my dear is purely for show
Because… Not everything that goes around comes back around, you know?
Holding on too long is just the fear of letting go
Because… Not everything that goes around comes back around, you know.
One thing that is clear:
It’s all downhill from here.
There’s something legendary and grandiose about this final track. Absolute in every way, it leaves the album with a finality. It’s the mood. It’s the music. It’s the words. Homme’s every whim and delicate gesture are recorded perfectly throughout this entire album, showcasing his talent. It showcases Homme’s humanity. Josh Homme is the type of guy who puts his heart and soul into a record, especially one that echoes so many sentiments about his own life. “…Like Clockwork” is a perfect testament. There’s nothing flawed about this song’s meaning or even the downer-look on it. It’s very shocking. It’s very honest. It’s very visceral. It cuts you deep in the heart, brain, soul, and existence.
Josh Homme and his band, Queens of the Stone Age, have arguably made a modern musical masterpiece with this album. There’s nothing more interesting than to see a band already established to throw a curveball and wow it’s every fan again. Kid A, Sgt. Pepper’s, and Dark Side Of The Moon are albums that radically shifted their respective band’s signature sound and brought on a generation of listeners as an audience. Nearly every human being who has ever cared about music has heard one of three of those albums. Queens of the Stone Age’s …Like Clockwork – it may seem odd to say so at this moment – could eventually be considered in the same rarefied air as those albums as well. But give it some time. It’s worthy of such praise.
Written by Dylan Tracy
OurVinyl | Contributor