If the ever-amorphous whirlwind of friends and collaborators featured on “…Like Clockwork” is any sign of the rock royalty listed in his Rolodex, Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme must throw great parties.
Queens of the Stone Age’s sixth and latest studio album features guest work by some of the biggest names in rock, including Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Jake Shears (Scissor Sisters), Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys), Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) and the venerable Sir Elton John.
The biggest news for fans, however, is the return of Queens of the Stone Age alumnus and former bassist Nick Oliveri, who was ousted by Homme in 2004 after allegations of domestic abuse. After what was portrayed to be a messy firing with resulting tension, Homme extended an olive branch while recording “…Like Clockwork,” inviting Oliveri on to sing backing vocals. He returned to a “permanent” lineup now comprising of bassist Michael Shuman (Wires on Fire, Mini Mansions) and multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita (The Waxwings, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather), with Joey Castillo and David Grohl (Scream, Nirvana, Foo Fighters and Them Crooked Vultures) splitting drum duties.
The album’s first cut, “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” is a slow, moody, drum-driven jam that creeps along. The song takes its time, but eventually rips the album open as Homme screams “If life is but a dream, then/ Wake me up.” The album then makes an about-face with the second track “I Sat by the Ocean,” a classic example of guitar rock: tight, clean riffs mixed with tight vocal teamwork by Homme and Shuman, reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age’s early days.
Track seven, “Fairweather Friends” is masterful. The trademark crunch of Homme’s guitar meshes beautifully with John’s choppy piano part while Grohl’s drum work ranges from soft accentuation to a full-fledged flurry. Consider the studio in which this song was recorded the rock equivalent to the Justice League’s headquarters, with the song featuring some of rock’s greatest superheroes.
Homme has been described as a man’s man, a late-born incarnation of rock-and-roll machismo. Eighth track “Smooth Sailing,” on the other hand, walks like a woman. And boy, does this girl have hips. Dark yet eerily and irresistibly seductive, the song drips with innuendo. Lines such as “Fear is the hand/ That pulls your strings/ A useless toy/ Pitiful plaything” and “Make a mountain of a mole hill/ And the mole hill is mine … I blow my load/ Over the status quo/ Here we go” seal the deal and show that the six years since “Era Vulgaris” haven’t changed Homme a bit.
Falsetto and piano take the album on a turn for the somber. Homme has, on occasion, mentioned his struggle with depression during the band’s hiatus, after a botched surgery left him bedridden. The album’s finale shows the scars. “…Like Clockwork” is a pretty piece, showing a rarely seen soft side to Homme. Not for long though. The chorus soars on the wings of a very tight, very electric guitar, and swoons to a conclusion by means of a string arrangement.
“…Like Clockwork” is more precise and firm than what has been seen in its past releases, but Homme has succeeded in maintaining a sense of raw rock, as well as control. The songs are tight and muscular, like a clenched fist, and there is a definite degree of fear to be felt in the jet-black seduction.