Joshua Homme and Queens of the Stone Age are back from the brink. No, really.
The new album, …Like Clockwork , is the rawk crew’s first album in six years – a follow-up to 2007’s coolly received Era Vulgaris. Homme, he has said, suffered a near-death experience while undergoing a knee operation in 2010. Depression followed. “I didn’t know if I was gonna come out,” he told an interviewer. “I had a pretty rough three years, but I don’t wanna harp on about it because everything for me is just a smaller set of wounds in a grander set of wounds.”
…Like Clockwork isn’t an upbeat offering. The recording sessions were complicated by the turfing of drummer Joey Castillo, who, after a decade of service, was dismissed for unpublicized reasons.
The opening track Keep Your Eyes Peeled trudges brutishly, with Homme crooning high, soulfully and with a troubled mind. “If life is but a dream,” he sings, not merrily, “wake me up.” The tune is off-kilter, and, like most of the material on this worried and elegantly bad-ass album, marked by dark existentialism and tricky rhythmic turns.
I Sat By the Ocean might remind Cars’ fans of the bouncy Let the Good Times Roll, though Homme might not agree with that song’s cavalier sentiment. “Time wounds all the heals,” he sings, “then we fade out of view.”
In 2010, with Dave Grohl and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, Homme formed the prog-rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures. One of their fans was Elton John, who here adds essential piano to Fairweather Friends, a ripping, wide-bodied rocker with a recognizable drummer (Grohl). “Is there anyone out there, or am I walking alone,” Homme asks. “I turned around and found that you’d gone before the first rain could fall.”
Homme does have friends. In addition to Grohl and John, other helpers include Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys and previous collaborators Mark Lanegan and Nick Oliveri.
Lyrically, Homme is refreshed and no-nonsense. On the Bowie-bluesy and key-changing stomp of Smooth Sailing, there is disdain of religion (“headaches at the temple of the closed mind”), along with a second-chance sense of freedom and fearlessness gained from flatline familiarity. “It’s smooth sailing from here on out,” the chorus goes, “I’m gonna do damage till the damage is done.”
Homme and crew, whose previous undainty albums are Songs for the Deaf and Lullabies to Paralyze, here do damage with a touch of grace.
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