Queens Of The Stone Age began as a fire-breathing specimen of what so-called post-grunge should have sounded like. Accelerating the stoner grooves of Josh Homme’s prior band Kyuss into burly, stomping anthems, QOTSA’s early classics like 2000’s “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer” never feared veering into cheeky sarcasm or Homme’s epic hook-mongering. With self-deprecating wit, Homme has titled QOTSA’s new album …Like Clockwork. The name refers to the setbacks that popped up regularly throughout the disc’s creation—including the assimilation of new members (multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita and drummer Jon Theodore) and the return of an old one (beleaguered ex-bassist Nick Oliveri, making his first appearance since 2002’s Songs For The Deaf)—not to mention having to work around the schedule of guest drummer (and past QOTSA collaborator) Dave Grohl. On top of that, Homme has been busy with Them Crooked Vultures, a supergroup with Grohl and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. All things considered, there’s every reason to assume Clockwork might sound even more undercooked than QOTSA’s last full-length, 2007’s strong but spotty Era Vulgaris.
Instead, Clockwork is incredibly cohesive. As if he’s following the path laid down by so many of his ’70s rock heroes, Homme is entering a new decade with a crisp, borderline robotic update of his band’s sound. That doesn’t mean Clockwork is a retro-’80s album—at least not exactly. But on opener “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” QOTSA’s trademark sludge is scraped off the heavy grooves to reveal shiny chrome underneath. Homme himself is in full-on drama-Queens mode; enunciating like a Shakespearean understudy, his voice prances through “My God Is The Sun,” a driving yet darkly romanticized hymn that sounds—at the risk of panicking people—kind of goth. It seems the album’s horrific cover isn’t entirely misleading, nor is the title of the slinky, insidiously catchy “The Vampyre Of Time And Memory.” Even eerier, Clockwork’s title track is a silky, sumptuous ballad with synthetic low-end and delicately caressed piano. “Not everything that goes around comes back around, you know,” Homme croons, pushing his falsetto into the upper atmosphere.
And then there’s “Kalopsia,” a midnight carnival ride cooked up by Homme and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, which shifts between dreamy, pulsing verses and snarling choruses. The guests pile on for “Fairweather Friends,” which features a choral intro sung by a motley crew comprising everyone from Reznor and Oliveri to frequent QOTSA contributor Mark Lanegan—and Sir Elton John. But their contributions (save for John’s elegant ivory work) fade behind Homme’s lead vocal, which shoots for supernova majesty. All that pomp and circumstance gets trapped under ice on “If I Had A Tail.” The album’s high point, it channels Gary Numan’s glacial new wave—without skimping on Homme’s sinuous lead guitar—while Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys drones coldly about “cities of glass” and “expensive holes to bury things.” The latter image may as well be a metaphor for Clockwork as a whole: a record of decadent, perverse, feel-weird hits of the winter. Just in time for summer.