Queens of the Stone Age: ...Like Clockwork (Matador) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Queens of the Stone Age

...Like Clockwork

Matador

Jun 24, 2013 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


More than a decade ago now, my best friend made me listen to Rated R and Songs For the Deaf, claiming they were musical life-changers. I listened to them plenty and liked them, even if they didn't change my musical life (but, honestly, how often are such aural promises fulfilled?). He also dragged me to a show somewhere in London; the sound was off and so I drank at the bar in a fit of puerile angst, leaving my friend to it. After that, I'll be honest: I tuned out of Radio Stone Age.

But I recently listened to their last record, 2007's Era Vulgaris, and it's pretty great. It doesn't have the same fire-and-brimstone directness as the earlier stuff, but it's dark and playful and lovably weird. Six years on, while the band's latest LP is still Queens-do-rock-a-bit-oddly, ...Like Clockwork is in a different place entirely. It's still dark, but more because the songs tend to sound kinda sad. And there are piano ballads. Seriously.

"I Sat By the Ocean" is pretty straight until the chorus, when the dreamscape euphoria of the Muse-y guitars and Josh Homme's high-pitched voice raise eyebrows. For about a minute, "Kalopsia" sounds like a cross between a soppy Red Hot Chili Peppers album track (post-Californication) and Grizzly Bear, before Homme realizes what the hell he's doing and starts yelling and thrashing. But then that's followed by a little Casio-pop breakdown.

"The Vampyre of Time and Memory" is one of the pre-warned piano numbersHomme's lilting lyrics all heartbroken, and wicked Chris Isaak-esque guitars turning up a third of the way through. What the fuck, Homme?

There are other touches that'll make you question, "Isn't this meant to be a heavy rock band?"like the line "Do run run, you won't get far" on the rather wonderful "If I Had a Tail," whose vocals (with help from estranged Stoner Nick Oliveri, as well as Alex Turner) and weirdness recall David Bowie.

"Fairweather Friends" channels the classic chaotic Queens climax, though combining it with a gospel choir-sounding thing in the background. Elton John helps out on this one, toono fucking kidding. On "Smooth Sailing," Homme's singing falsetto is akin to Prince's, and the guitars are funk-rockin' up the verses.

The guitars are more or less grungy, but some of those indie-rock rhythms, with distortion-lite effects, sound a bit like Franz Ferdinand. Not necessarily a bad thingthey're pretty and chiming, and the straight-up lead riffs are often infectious. But this is Queens of the fucking Stone Age, man.

It pays to remember, of course, that they are called Queens of the Stone Age for a reason. In a macho rock world, they were making a statement. And, frankly, they've always been genre antagonists. So it shouldn't be that much of a surprise (genre purists need seeing to, anyway), and, most importantly, there are countless fine moments here. Much of ...Like Clockwork sounds quite jaunty (but sometimes also plodding), with plenty of prog-rock-esque cacophony to get immersed in (I basically just described the penultimate track, "I Appear Missing"). But despite all the eclectic elements, it struggles to excite like vintage Queens.

The title track closer sums things up. It's an unexpected, touchy-feely, world-weary heart-bleeder so highly strung that you wonder if Homme will burst into laughter (or tears?) at any moment. None of the other tracks are as piano-dominated as this one, so fear not. Slightly Isaak-y guitars turn up again halfway through (very welcome), followed by atonal violins, and it's like, "Fuck, good work, guys." But then it should just end instead of resetting to more or less the same parts we already heard, repeating as though to emphasize the lines, "Because not everything that goes around comes back around, you know."

...Like Clockwork is an irreverent turn for the ever-irreverent Queens, and I don't mind at all the ambitious, new, not-so-Queens ideas. But perhaps a little minimalismnot stretching so many of those ideas to close to or more than five minuteswould make this an infinitely more enjoyable ride. I guess at least they have me tuned in again, and certainly curious as to what's next. (www.qotsa.com)

Author rating: 6.5/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10



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Anabela Vieira
June 24th 2013
11:50am

What??? Review???