…Like Clockwork begins with the sounds of smashing bottles and a growing sense of dread. It’s disconcerting, vaguely mysterious and very exciting – much as Queens of the Stone Age, at their best, have always had the ability to be. 2007’s Era Vulgaris, the band’s last effort before a lengthy hiatus, found Josh Homme and co. end an impressive hot streak that started with their self-titled debut nine years before.
The re-release of Queens of the Stone Age two years ago whet an appetite for the Californian hard-rockers that Era had all but dulled, and …Like Clockwork does not disappoint.
Those smashing bottles give way to the droning ‘Keep Your Eyes Peeled’, a challenging number that almost dares you to listen before giving away to some fine, tingling guitar lines, but all the while strutting with some timely squalls and the bruisingly slow pace it keeps. ‘I Sat by the Ocean’, on the other hand, has less of a hardened edge and bounces along tunefully, with the words “Silence is over / We’re passing ships in the night” marking a climb into rocking giddiness – it’s a fun QOTSA song.
‘The Vampyre of Time and Memory’ and ‘Kalopsia’ are the two numbers that push against the essence QOTSA most. ‘Vampyre’ begins with Homme and a lone piano; his voice sounds scared like a child as he sings: “I want God to come / And take me home”. It’s a rare ballad, flecked with electronic squelches, but the other shoe drops with a couple of nice guitar solos and Dave Grohl’s crashing drums. ‘Kalopsia’, on the other hand, just sounds like a trip, a floating dream before the inevitable crunch and flitting between ephemeral prettiness and raucous noise afterwards.
The album’s midsection is very strong, both qualitatively and in sound, with ‘If I Had a Tail’ and ‘My God Is the Sun’ reigning among the highlights. The former has the overtly sexual swagger that underlies many of Queens’ best moments (“I wanna suck / I wanna lick / I wanna cry and I wanna spit”) but is really beholden to its ghostly moans and arsenal of hammering of guitars.
The latter builds and builds to a great release, with Homme sounding like a fundamentalist when he barks the conclusive “My God … is the su-uu-uuuuuunnnn.”. It’s a slinky coalition of racing guitars and fuzzy bass that inspires primal urges as the best rock does. It is not, however, the best …Like Clockwork has to offer. That would be penultimate track ‘I Appear Missing’, a godly six minutes of great scope and awe-inspiring catharsis.
Queens of the Stone Age are a true anomaly. Where hard rock has been by and large discarded as a relic of a bygone era, they continually triumph, and it’s because they tread the line between power and subversion so wonderfully. ‘I Appear Missing’ is as dark and masculine a song as you can probably imagine, but it is also willfully strange in a way that few bands are allowed or allow themselves to be. Initially, it sounds macabre like an aged mystic beckoning an ingenue into the forest with a bony finger. The guitar slides and piercing arpeggios are endlessly creepy, setting an edgy tone and a nervous sense of atmposphere, but such eeriness subsides in an instant when Homme and band choose to throttle the track with their riffing might.
Homme puts himself in the shoes of an escaped prisoner, a narrative thread that only adds to an incredibly intriguing song, one that draws you in before dealing out a most face-melting of guitar solos. Epic is an overused term, but ‘I Appear Missing’ most certainly is that and more. It is the final confirmation that Era Vulgaris was a mere blip and that Queens of the Stone Age are as good as ever. …Like Clockwork is quintessential QOTSA.