It’s been six long years since QOTSA has graced us with an album, and more than ten since they unleashed the magnificent Songs for the Deaf on the flabbergasted musical world. Taunting us with almost Daft Punk-like levels of hype, a couple of teaser tracks from …Like Clockwork were released, accompanied by beautiful/disturbing animations. This either whet your appetite or annoyed the hell out of you depending on how much you were slavering over the imminent release of the album. Well, tease, hype & slavering notwithstanding, the album is now out and I’m about to tell you if it’s any good or not.
The record boasts a crazy array of guest musicians: Elton John, Trent Reznor, Brodie Dalle, Nick Oliveri & Mark Lanegan among several others. Of course the biggest bombshell that was dropped in the lead up to the release was that Dave Grohl would be handling the drumming duties, however Joey Castillo and John Theodore make some notable contributions as well. So….it’s an all star cast for sure, but is it a meeting of great minds or a case of too many cocks spoil the brothel?
Within seconds of the creepy intro to “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” you know your in QOTSA land. Josh Homme’s unmistakeably filthy guitar tone immediately makes its presence felt over a solid bed of elasticised, swaggering drums and bass. It doesn’t take long for the guitar riffs to become non-repeating and layered either. Nor does Homme hold back his vocals for long, midway through the track he belts out his best Jack Bruce impersonation a-la Them Crooked Vultures and the track builds to an aggressive cacophony of tortured guitars and pounding drums before fading back into its sticky groove once again.
Yep, great opener for sure, but do they keep up the good work throughout the album?
Yes. Yes they do. Anyone frustrated by the inconsistencies of their last effort Era Vulgaris, will be most pleased with this record. It’s almost made up of a combination of the best elements from all their previous efforts: The acid-fried stoner rock of the first two records; the adrenaline fuelled magnificence of Songs for the Deaf; the dark and brooding smoulder of Lullabies to Paralyse and the sleazy trash-funk of Era Vulgaris. All these constituents have been combined to create a work of exceptional quality.
It’s not Songs for the Deaf mark II. Many folks were hoping for such a thing, but one can’t expect the band to backtrack more than a decade. …Like Clockwork is slightly less pacey than the aforementioned masterpiece; there are certainly moments which harken back to it, but rather this album has a dark driving relentlessness and continuity which is quite mesmerizing.
Six years may seem a long time between albums, but when you hear results like this it makes it almost worth the wait. Homme’s songwriting is bang on the money; the arrangements are familiar & evocative yet also surprising & quirky enough to keep you guessing the whole way through.
Instrumentally it’s standard rock/QOTSA fare. Guitar, bass, drums, piano & vocals. That’s no bad thing though! Once again the band has shown the wannabes what’s possible with the bare bones of rock’n’roll. There are no obvious embellishments to confuse or clutter the sound. The only exceptions are a brief string section at the end of the closing title track and the frightening synthesizer part in “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” which sounds as if it was lifted straight from the Clockwork Orange soundtrack!
Homme’s 6 string wizardry is on display from start to finish. He riffs, solos and harmonizes with seemingly consummate ease throughout proceedings. QOTSA has always been his band, but he really makes the point abundantly clear on …Like Clockwork. The other QOTSA hero from a performance perspective is usually Dave Grohl, however he’s rather more restrained here than he was on Songs for the Deaf. The drumming is less frenetic but more determined. Instead of hitting you over the head a hundred times per song, he only hits you ten times….but a hundred times as hard.
From a production standpoint, this record is very similar to Songs for the Deaf. It’s not drenched in reverb or other effects and the drums in particular sound very roomy and studio-like. Nothing wrong with that though…the moments were captured lovingly and the room at Pink Duck Studios is as much a part of the record as the performances are.
Are there any complaints? Well….not really, a couple of tracks are slightly unengaging and fail to hold your attention for their full duration (“Smooth Sailing” or “Fairweather Friends”), but they’re in no way poor tracks, it’s just that they’re in such exalted company!
Standout tracks….damn hard to choose, but there’s a metaphorical gun to my head so here goes:
“If I had a Tail” is exemplary of Grohl’s “relentless” rhythmic pounding and features a tremendous chorus with a booming riff which swats and sways from side to side in perfect harmony with the lyrical subject matter.
“I Appear Missing” is the penultimate track and is a haunting waltz-like slice of Homme-weirdness which resurrects the creepiest moments of the too often overlooked album Lullabies to Paralyse…and bizarrely (for a slow track) it features Grohl’s most complex percussive flourishes.
Arguably the best track on offer is the one which most sounds like it belongs on Songs for the Deaf. “My God is the Sun”. What a track this is. Easily the most up-tempo moment on the entire disc, it features a strange galloping 6/8 meter and contains some of Homme’s finest guitar work. Not just the playing…the epic arrangements and harmonizations are the equal of anything the band has ever done. The inertia and weight of this song are what’s missing from a couple of the lesser tracks…small complaint though it is.
Though the band have taken their collective feet off the accelerator somewhat, this album is a very impressive return to the public ear. It’s not the out and out masterpiece that Songs for the Deaf is, but it’s an extremely strong effort which easily betters their last release in Era Vulgaris and …Like Clockwork demonstrates that QOTSA is a band which now defies genre, image and epoch.