Queens in name, kings in execution

There comes a time about once a year when I feel as if I should review something by a band you’ve heard of. I’ve decided to take that option early because the new Queens of the Stone Age record is available to me, and that band is incredible.

Photo © Matador
Photo © Matador

There comes a time about once a year when I feel as if I should review something by a band you’ve heard of. I’ve decided to take that option early because the new Queens of the Stone Age record is available to me, and that band is incredible.

Not many bands on planet Earth have such a fiercely loyal following as QOTSA, and quite the fracas ensues whenever the band has a new record out. I am hereby pledging to prolong this fracas and tell you everything I think about it.

If you’re one of the seven people between the ages of 16 and 60 that hasn’t heard of Queens of the Stone Age, this is your lucky day, because they are one of this country’s finest rock bands. To this day, the band has never released a bad record—not even their debut album is bad.

Before 1996, when Queens formed, singer/guitarist Josh Homme played in another equally impressive rock band called Kyuss. By all accounts, Homme is the only member of Kyuss that hasn’t built an entire career on playing Kyuss songs. There’s a reason for that—Homme’s mind is a prolific one.

But the difference between a regular prolific mind and Homme’s is that everything he touches turns to rock.

Homme and company remove all the frilly gunk that rock musicians think people want to hear and stick to a very solid but intelligent formula for pure rock bliss.

The riffs are tight and chunky, the songs all evolve beautifully as they progress, and Homme is just an all-around great rock vocalist. Almost every album leaves you feeling aurally full.

However, the throngs of loyal Queens of the Stone Age fans are beginning to get hungry—the band hasn’t released an album since 2007’s Era Vulgaris, and this is the longest the band has taken to release an album in its lifespan.

Not only that, but this record, …Like Clockwork, took a full seven months to record. What kinds of treasures await?

Much like Era Vulgaris before it, Clockwork is really, really dark. When Queens of the Stone Age do dark, it doesn’t come off as terribly melancholy—but it’s something the searing guitar tones smear all over Clockwork.

Instantly, it’s easy to see why Homme is one of today’s unsung guitar legends. The opening track, “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” has an incredibly layered, complex and unique tone—the kind that a lot of guitar players could spend years searching for.

Homme’s typical hyper-compressed tone is intact, and it’s a mystery why nobody has stepped up to copy his sound yet.

Homme has such a buttery voice that there is a lot to like about this as an opener. It builds wonderfully and—Homme aside—the sounds are very unusual; the rest of the band pushes the limits of “common sense” rock standards.

Throughout, though, it’s clear that Homme is still the centerpiece of this—the solo on “I Sat by the Ocean” is wildly creative; it sounds like an orchestra playing in reverse.

The record is full of awe-inspiring bits. Most of the guitar on “My God is the Sun” falls into that category, as does the psychedelic, bluesy haze present on “I Appear Missing.”

One thing that becomes clear as Clockwork unfolds is that Homme is an exceptional all-around craftsman of tone. I am fully aware that I sound like a cheesy Hawaiian-shirt-wearing suburban dad for saying that, but it wholly applies. The music has always been exquisite on Queens of the Stone Age records—and not just in short bursts.

To that end, the production on Clockwork is beautifully separated. It’s easy to let the ear isolate all the layers as everything has been given room to breathe. The production is truly inspiring—and, as Homme acts producer on QOTSA records, adds another level of elitism to his credentials.

There’s also something to be found on Clockwork that’s relatively new—keyboards. That isn’t to say that Queens of the Stone Age has turned into the Edgar Winter Group or anything; while there is plenty of electric piano smattered all over Clockwork, and it adds a lot more than it takes away.

It’s almost impossible to talk about Clockwork without mentioning one of the hardest-hitting one-two punches in memory—“Smooth Sailing” and “I Appear Missing” together are a testament to the power of incredible tracks and ordering foresight. Just these two tracks in succession are enough to bring loyal Queens fans to their knees. Try it sometime.

Queens of the Stone Age
…Like Clockwork
Matador Records
Out June 3
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

“Smooth Sailing” is definitely the ballsiest cut on the record: imagine some crunchy, shit-kicking electro boogie straight out of Road House’s Double Deuce bar. This is the type of music someone puts on the bar jukebox before a massive brawl breaks out.

That said, “I Appear Missing” is quite possibly the most ambitious piece on the record—there is some incredible songwriting here. The song evolves like something from Black Sabbath’s glory days of songwriting: This is just how riff-based rock music should work.

Quite possibly the weakest spot on the record is the last song, coincidentally the album’s title track. It just doesn’t have the oomph to compete with the staggering musicianship presented in the two tracks before it.

“…Like Clockwork” leaves off appropriately enough but never gathers enough momentum to really pull you in. You’re likely exhausted after “I Appear Missing”—and that’s OK.

In this world, there are two types of rock bands: amateurs and true professionals. Queens of the Stone Age are so much the latter that it’s kind of hard to comprehend. And if you’re one of those seven people I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, get it together immediately.

This is one of those bands, that—much like the Beatles and the Stones of your parents’ generation—you’re going to bore your kids talking about someday.

Turns out, getting old can be cool.