Sound — 10
If you've been on UG at all in the past, oh, four or five months, you've probably heard quite a bit about the new mega-hyped Queens of the Stone Age album. First a rockin' single first heard live at Lollapalooza Brazil, then some creepy phone calls and a bloody musical cartoon followed by new songs dropping nearly every day. Now, after a considerably long wait, the album can finally be heard in its entirety. With so much build-up, one will have to decide if the album stands up to expectations or topples under the pressure. Early reviews of the only song that was truly released as a single, "My God is the Sun," compared the track to earlier QOTSA work, like something one might hear off of "Rated R." As the album began to unravel, however, through live leaks and cartoon snippets, the sound was revealed to be much broader, wherein a comparison to later Queens albums, particularly "Lullabies to Paralyze," have become more appropriate. The album is cohesive in the sense that the tone is consistently darkly sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek, yet expansive due to the fact that nearly each track has something unique. Homme's signature chant-like vocals and Shuman's often tightly hypnotic bass lines miraculously work to tie sometimes thumping, sometimes slippery, but always layered guitar work with schizophrenic drum beats and various other vocal or instrumental contributions, often from guest artists. With such expert, seasoned musicians, one is likely to expect "...Like Clockwork" to be pretty damn good. And it is. 1. "Keep Your Eyes Peeled" - This track starts out with a pulsating, uber-distorted bass note that lays the heartbeat for the rest of the album. Darkly mechanical and almost industrial, the track drudges on under Homme's voice, which never seems to resolve as a piano echoes hauntingly somewhere in the framework. The machine speeds up as wah-guitar chimes in, only to die out into an ice-cold silence. 2. "I Sat By the Ocean" - Most reminiscent of "Era Vulgaris," this track is much more upbeat than its predecessor, but retains the satirical vibe one has come to expect from most QOTSA songs. A chugging guitar line is complimented by a warbling slide guitar quite nicely, and although it comes early, makes for a retrospective break in the doom and gloom of most of the other tracks. The '70s style drum beat and guitar arpeggios in the chorus are even almost uplifting. Not a quintessential track by any means, but still very enjoyable. 3. "The Vampyre of Time and Memory" - This track opens in a nearly musical theater-style lament, with a hollow but longingly repeated piano riff accompanying Josh singing about uncertainty and self-doubt. The synths welcome in a bluesy guitar solo, and the track only builds from there, ending with a satisfying call-and-response guitar solo with cascading tom-rolls and cymbal crashes, ultimately plummeting into the middle of a tepid sonic ocean. 4. "If I Had a Tail" - Those of us waiting for Alex Turner's voice are going to have to look a little harder than we might have expected; he only sings back-up (along with Nick Oliveri and Brody Dalle), but is also credited with guitar work on the track, and there's a good amount of it (Josh is always into layers), though it's hard to see who's who. That aside, this track does not stand out a whole lot, but its certainly not bad. One is likely to think "Lullabies" again, here, as the track feels a bit sluggish, but perks up with the chorus. The real surprise comes in a short interlude at the end, where the songs spirals into harmonic oblivion as Homme and the guest vocalists hiss like ghosts to bring in the single. 5. "My God is the Sun" - Filled with calculated but unpredictable guitar lines that only Homme could write and a drum track few other than Grohl could produce, one can see why the band chose this song as a single for the album. It really is an introduction to what the band seems to be going for on "...Like Clockwork," but is inclusive enough to bring in the more casual listener while retaining the detached and dark tone. Certainly a stand out track, and a great jam overall. 6. "Kalopsia" - This is where things really start to get interesting. Similar to the heartbeat heard in the opening track, but certainly much more lighthearted, this track begins as Homme harmonizes with himself over a floating guitar melody and belching, almost obtrusive synths. One can feel the dismal cloud setting over the track, knowing it really is too good to be true, and the storm hits with a scratched string like lightning, soon followed by thunderous drums and heavy power chords while Trent Reznor enters stage right to sing a powerful duet alongside Josh. The track weaves in and out of the light, wilting A-section, which is always pulverized unexpectedly by the stabbing B-section. It all culminates in screams and cymbal crashes, and the song limps off to die under Homme's groan. 7. "Fairweather Friends" - Epic and punching, this is one of the best tracks "...Like Clockwork" has to offer, if not the best overall. Homme begins singing "Is there anybody out there?..." and the song seems as lost as he, but in a really good way. The song takes off like a sputtering rocket with odyssean guitar work, and Homme's soliloquy is soon overtaken by melodic fireworks, with plenty of instrumental breaks to go around, each as exciting as the last. It's a track that one really has to hear to believe. Oh, and if Elton John wasn't enough, it's also got Reznor and Mark Lanegan. 8. "Smooth Sailing" - So Queens of the Stone Age walk in to a discoteque... The second half of this album is very diverse, and that doesn't stop here. This track is exciting, thumping, but still has enough of that sludge 'n' drudge to keep the seasoned Queens listener's attention. As drums pump and guitars bump, Shears' vocals add a new element to the sound, and even though Homme proved he could do something similar on "Make It Wit Chu," it's fun to have an extra voice in there. The song is tight until the bridge, and begins to derail into a dizzying breakdown, only to regain balance and chug into the station with a final whispered "chik-a-pow." 9. "I Appear Missing" - As the penultimate track is reached, the album begins to settle back into its old ways, and the downer tone established in "Keep Your Eyes Peeled" is regained, though with an air of acceptance that makes it all the more depressing. As Homme trips around the fretboard and Grohl beats the drums to death, the song peters out only to be briefly reborn with a punctuated vengeance. As the song climaxes, so does the album, and with only one post-orgasm track remaining, you can almost hear a cigarette being lit and exhaled with a satisfactory sigh. 10. "...Like Clockwork" - This song begins quite unlike what we're used to from the Queens; it's just a piano and Josh, no black frills, and no haunting bass undercurrent. It's an actual, heartfelt lament, and Homme croons until a soulful guitar solo begins, building back up with strings and crescendo molto drums in an attempt to reignite... but, "Not everything that goes around / Comes back around, you know," and the big finish never quite materializes. The paranoia that can be heard on the earlier tracks is nowhere to be found, and it feels as though defeat has been truly accepted; thus, quite unlike clockwork, the album ends with gentle taps on a crash ride until the orchestra plays everyone out, the curtain already closed.
Lyrics — 10
Unlike many previous QOTSA releases, many of the lyrics featured on "...Like Clockwork" diverge from the abstractly sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek ramblings that many avid listeners may have come to expect from the band, though it is still present on several tracks, and quite clever, as always. Many are likely to agree this is welcomed change, as there truly seems to be some more tangible and less exclusive emotion behind Homme's pen, particularly in the latter half of the album. As always, Josh's vocals are calculatedly sloppy and unresolving, and he sings patterns that don't cease to impress. The vocals and lyrics complement each other in such a way that one might argue that the vocals couldn't really survive without the lyrics, and vice-versa.
Overall Impression — 9
There truly isn't much to complain about on "...Like Clockwork." It is just as chilling and epic as most of us have expected in the last few months before its release. In my opinion, the album really starts to pick up with "My God is the Sun," but that's not to say that the first half isn't worth listening to, as songs like "Keep Your Eyes Peeled" and "If I Had a Tail" seem to work to set up the overall tone for the remainder of the album. It is certianly QOTSA's most comprehensive and expansive release to date, with comparisons reaching as far as Rush, the Bee Gees, and (yep) The Beatles, and the end result is, I must say, very satisfying. But does it live up to the hype? It's tough to say, and the answer will certainly vary from listener to listener. I'm not sure that ANY album could quite live up to the amount of hype surrounding "...Like Clockwork," with promos being dropped throughout May on the daily. It comes pretty close though, so I tip my hat to the Queens. I'll finish with this: there's a lot more I could say about this album, but I'd really rather just go back and listen again. Ciao.