It’s been half a decade since everybody’s favourite desert rockers released the mixed reviewed ‘Era Vulgaris’, and their sixth studio album offers a window into the often weird and dangerous world of Josh Homme’s desert dwelling delinquents.
The return of Dave Grohl and Nick Oliveri will undoubtedly cause unfair comparisons to Songs For The Deaf, the band’s modern-day masterpiece and their best album to date. However, the eleven years in between SFTD and …Like Clockwork mean that stylistically the sound was never going to be same, which in terms of a band adapting and progressing their sound, is surely a good thing. After all, who wants a band to churn out the same stuff every record?
The promotional campaign behind the album was to say the least contradictory. At first there was the typical shadowed mystery, with cryptic messages offering little regarding what the album was going to be like. But then it seemed as though label Matador hit the panic button and spluttered everything out all at once. No less than six songs were released in the form of live versions, sessions, radio performances and videos before the album came out. The result was that when the listener sat down and listened to the album for the first time they’d already heard half of it already, a strange experience indeed.
Things kick off with some incredibly swampy bass in ‘Keep Your Ears Peeled’ before a pulsating stop-start riff in the form of ‘I Sat By The Ocean’. Homme lays down some classic Queens imagery, mixing alchemy and alcohol with ‘I sat by the ocean and drank my potion to forget you’.
‘If I Had A Tail’ features Alex Turner on guitar but as is the influence Homme has had on his Sheffield born protégé, you can’t really tell who’s playing what, or how much he’s even playing at all. It features a groovy, bluesy, jerky riff, oh la las and earth shattering drumming by Dave Grohl, who once again proves his work behind the stool is more important than what he does with a microphone. Homme resorts to beast mode with ‘If I had a tail I’d own the night, if I had a tail I’d swat the flies’, and really, who’s going to argue with him?
Alex Turner’s disguised guitar in the track is a recurring theme on the album, with the guest contributions sitting in the mix, rather than stomping all over it. This not only shows how respected QOTSA are in the industry, that these A-List names (Elton John, Trent Reznor, Jake Shears to name but a few) are wanting to contribute not purely for their own moment in the spotlight, but it also means the album is 100% a Queens one, something that was potentially threatened when the guest names were announced.
‘My God Is The Sun’ was the first material we heard from the record and its thrusting riff and bassline, both of which have Homme’s signature stamped all over them, mean it’s likely to be a single track. It suitably leads into ‘Kalopsia’, an expansive spacey number featuring Trent Reznor, and although you can tell he’s had an input on the track he’s not dominant at all.
When Homme was getting tanked up at one of his generator parties in the desert it’s unlikely he ever suspected Elton John would collaborate on one of his tracks, and indeed you must ask, have stranger things happened? ‘Fairweather Friends’ intertwines John’s piano with the filth and fury, and alas, it works.
‘Smooth Sailing’ swaggers along leaving absolutely no let up for the listener. Grohl’s percussional performance in ‘I Appear Missing’ is awe-inspiring, with aggressive brashness, impossible fills everywhere you look, and all for a whole six minutes. Joey Castillo, who drums for the band’s live shows, is a fantastic drummer, but it’s only Grohl who can genuinely propel a track so noticeably, and it’d be a shame if this is his last collaboration with the band.
Title track ‘…Like Clockwork’ is a woozy candid closing track, offering the listener a sense of closure after what is an absolutely breath-taking journey from start to finish.
Note that every single track is reviewed, and though that’s something generally avoided in reviews, it’s something that is necessary as there is absolutely no filler whatsoever. Each track adds something unique and integral to the overall soundscape, keeping the listener hooked from one riff to the next.
Comparisons to SFTD are inevitable and crop up every time QOTSA release an album. Is …Like Clockwork as good as their 2002 album? Well no, it’s not, but it was never expected to be so. It’s an album of many, many highs and hardly any lows, with an impeccable sense of consistency and world-class musicianship throughout.
It’s not groundbreaking, it’s not revolutionary, it’s not even a return to their finest form, but it’s an album that fits nicely into the timeline of one of America’s greatest ever rock exports, who as they grow older show no let-up and no signs of abandoning the hedonistic style of their work. Let’s just hope it’s not another half a decade until their next.
…Like Clockwork is out on June 3 via Matador.