‘Like Clockwork’: Album review
Rock bands have it hard these days. Barely any acts from that bold genre have scraped the top of the charts in recent times. Some that have only managed to because they’re grandfathered in from richer days, like the reformed Soundgarden, the on-again-off-again Pearl Jam or the graying Green Day. But, if you’re talking about top-charting acts that are close to, or even at their peaks, just three come to mind: the Black Keys, Foo Fighters, and Queens of the Stone Age.
To make the fate of big-time rock worse, six long years have passed since a third of its top triumvirate — the Queens — put out new music. “Like Clockwork” is the California-based band’s first CD since 2007’s “Era Vulgaris.” In the meantime, its members have been waging fleeting sorties into the mainstream under other guises, including Eagles of Death Metal and Them Crooked Vultures.
Their side projects only seem to have stoked Queens lead Josh Homme for the main band’s barreling return. “Clockwork” is the best of the group’s six CDs, graced by their finest balance of melody and menace.
To rally the remaining rock troops, Homme once again roped in longtime friend and collaborator Dave Grohl (of the Foo Fighters) to man many of the drum parts. But the disc also includes guest spots from less-likely stars, like Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears and Elton John, who supposedly invited himself along with the tease, “you guys should work with a real Queen.”
The left field guests tip off the unpredictable nature of the essential Queens sound. It’s an invigorating mix of grunge, art-pop, and Pink Floyd-style, trippy sound effects (hence the band’s early tag: “stoner rock”). The new disc uses horror movie soundtrack motifs, from shattering glass to threatening winds. It also idealizes the Queens’ extremes, bracketing their sound with their most concussive riffs and finest tunes. In a single track, they’ll mix silken guitar lines that sound like the reincarnation of George Harrison, with riffs as reptilian as the hardest of Soundgarden. Some of the new songs sound like Bowie on late ’70s albums like “Heroes” or “Lodger.” “Smooth Sailing” has the metallic funk of the Bowie smash “Fashion,” along with a cackling guitar solo that could have come off a prime Blue Oyster Cult album.
Much of the music has a hip-shaking sexiness, enhanced by Homme’s Jim Morrison-esque bellow. It’s a harder and stranger sound than the Foos, and a more forward-thinking one than the Black Keys. In the process, it hits a sweet spot, giving rock just the beastly boost it could use.
Queens of the Stone Age in Paris