// "If Life Is But A Dream, Wake Me Up." - A Review Of …Like Clockwork by Queens Of The Stone Age.//
It’s finally time. After six years of waiting and waiting for the phenomenal Josh Homme and Co. to put out some new music, …Like Clockwork has finally been released onto us. With it, Queens Of The Stone Age have made an album completely unique and unlike anything else in their catalog… which might not sound very unlike them, but hold your horses, John Wayne.
The album opens with this grimy, ominous diddy named “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”. Being the only track on the album in the standard Queens guitar tuning of C, it is one the darkest sounding, with the main rhythm pounding and almost tribal sounding, while the guitar sounds as murky and dark as that cave from that movie where all those girls got fucked up by mutants. It’s equal parts worthy for head bobbing and cold sweats.
The guitar work, especially in the bridge, is very precise and simple, but it works perfectly. Nothing on the song itself is overly complex, but that allows the numerous changes throughout the song to shine, each appearing as vital to the song as the last. It’s an intricate little piece that exercises technicality in simplicity.
On top of all that, it perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the album, which is an uncharacteristically dark outing from the riff queens. From this point on, Josh sings of heartbreak, betrayal, failures, and even death while the instrumentation is fresh and familiar at the same time. We have the swaggery, bluesy riffs we can expect from QOTSA, but on top of pianos, synthesizers, and the most badass and intricate basslines they’ve ever had. (THANKS MIKEY!)
The album really does permeate the feeling of clockwork, allowing it to explain the complex history of recording the album while also showing that while every time the minute hand moves it might be something you’re familiar with, but what happens to everything surrounding it might just be something you would have never expected.
We have straight pop-rock songs, we have piano ballads, we have borderline ambient parts, and we even have some proggy, Floyd-style chillout sessions. …Like Clockwork shows the true diversity of Queens in a way none of their albums showed before, not though using different vocalists or different producers per track, but by the same group of musicians locking themselves in a studio and going wild. This is truly the sound of Josh, Troy, and Mikey with a little bit of Dave, Joey, and Jon.
Even the much-hyped guest stars aren’t nearly as a big of a deal on the album as they are on paper.Trent Reznor just does some backing vocals on the chorus of “Kalopsia” and in the big chorus of everyone (including 3/4s of the rest of the guests) in “Fairweather Friends”. Alex Turner has a tiny vocal solo at the end of “If I Had A Tail”. Even Dave Grohl, who plays one of the main instruments on many of the songs, never really does anything to break out of the crowd except for a small part in “I Appear Missing”, which I’m going to gush about later.
The point is that this was never meant to be an all-star lineup like Songs For The Deaf. The guests play a role similar to the guests on Sharon Van Etten’s amazing Tramp did. You have people from The National, you have people from Wye Oak, you have indie music royalty and all they did was some backup vocals and a little guitar. It was never to make a supergroup, it was to make a core group to simply pound out a damn good rock album. It’s the same effect to inviting some friends over to help you figure out a little part here or to give you a pat on the back there. Yes, there were some helping hands, but ...Like Clockwork is the most natural, honest, and plainly themselves Queens has even been since the self-titled record.
The whole album sounds like the utmost care was taken crafting it, kind of like a sculpture or an ice cream sundae at Cold Stone when you stare into the eyes of the employees as they’re making it. (“I said DRIZZLE the Oreos! DRIZZLE, DAMN IT.”) The production and mixing is on-fucking-point with nothing sounding overpowering and everything you want to hear right in the front of the mix.
A perfect example of this is the the track “If I Had A Tail.” The chill, head-bobbing, and road-cruising verses turn into massive and just straight dirty choruses that hit you like a pile of bricks without blowing your eardrums out. And just like that, it goes back into the desert road-trip theme song of the verses. The entire album is filled with moments like that, where you feel like the wind just got knocked out of you by getting ridden too hard while in the back seat of a convertible.
So, getting the wind knocked out of you in the best way possible, obviously.
Now before I wrap this thing up, I want to talk a little bit about two tracks that really stood out to me on the record.
First… the track “Smooth Sailing.” Fuck what anyone may say about this song, it’s one of the best tracks on the album. With it, they’ve taken the grimy, one-night-stand style of funk they have played with before (see Skin On Skin) and have made it a full on dark alley filled with cheap hookers and milkshakes. The guitar work is on point and every note is perfectly placed to make you want to shake your ass hard.
And then there’s that solo.
OH GOD THE SOLO ON THIS TRACK IS RIDICULOUS. It has to be one of Josh Homme’s best solos ever, and yes, it’s all because of that one part that was in the fan-favorite snippet 7 from the original teases of the record. And if they couldn’t have left the amazing guitar work at the solo, they have a sick ascending riff come out of nowhere near the end that sounds like the devil is being choked to death. Never before have I found myself singing guitar riffs to myself this much. It’s 110% infectious.
The lyrics are dirty, hilarious and show Mr. Homme flexing his wit well. Examples are “If reason is priceless, there’s no reason to pay for it” and “I blow my load over the status quo.” It all is just a quick little shot to the heart of sexy adrenaline that is placed perfectly in the album. It was a standout from the first listen and continues to rock every time.
Then we have “I Appear Missing.”
This song. This damn song. It’s going to be hard as hell to describe this one because it’s pretty much a goddamn masterpiece. Queens have never made a song that hits this hard emotionally. Imagine the power of A Song For The Deaf stabbing you in the heart… that’s this one. It is a horribly bittersweet piece of beauty.
Before we get into the thick of it, I have to say real quick that Dave Grohl’s drumming on this is, for lack of a better term, fucking awesome. He keeps it simple when it needs to be kept simple, letting Josh’s lyrics and all the guitars take the focus, and then busts a RIDICULOUS fill out of FUCKING NOWHERE that is one of the craziest things I’ve ever heard him play before. Bravo, you beautiful man. Bravo.
Josh lays down some of the best vocals he has on the entire record, backing up his soul-crushing chorus lyrics (“shock me awake, tear me apart, pinned like a note in a hospital gown” and “it’s only called falling in love because you hit the ground.”) with a haunting falsetto and showing off a truly perfect falsetto in the chilling outro.
You know what… let’s take a second to talk about the outro to this track. Take a seat a listen closely, children.
From the 4:20 mark on this track, it explodes into an astonishingly heart-breaking closing, marked by one of the most emotional, tear-jerking guitar solos I’ve ever heard. It sounds like the guitar is squeaking out its last few breaths before dying right there and it hits you like a lightening bolt to your stomach. Everything in the song, the drums, the vocals, the guitars, even the bass, they all converge into a vortex of emotion unlike anything I’ve heard in ages. It sounds like what watching your life swirl down a drain would feel like.
Even after the many, many, many listens I have given this track, I still get chills… and not just any chills. I’m talking watching the video to Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” kind of chills. Just all encompassing, body rocking chills. I’m listening to it right now and even as I’m typing this I’m getting chills. It’s crazy, man. I need to go eat bacon or something and regain some manliness.
Anyway, to get back on track, I must say I’m not into everlasting ultimatums much, but I truly believe that “I Appear Missing” is one of the greatest tracks Queens Of The Stone Age will ever make. It is a true masterpiece.
So, after years and years of waiting, playing all their other albums on repeat endlessly, and sometimes crying because I needed just a little more Joshua Homme in my life… was the wait worth it?
You’re goddamn right it was.
All in all, …Like Clockwork is another masterful work by Queens Of The Stone Age and an album that should go down in rock history as one of the most triumphant comeback albums of all time. It’s another classic album from one of the greatest bands of all fucking time.
If this is all a dream, I hope I don’t wake up.