I don’t know what time it was, I can’t tell the time!
Forged from the fire of the California sun, and welded with enough sweet leaf to choke the entire Sabbath crew, Kyuss, along with others in the desert rock scene, dominated the 90s underground with their stoner sensibilities and sandy production, characterised by fuzzy riffs and coarse vocal lines. Their 1992 album Blues For The Red Sun would, for many, go on to define the scene that stayed and smoked it out whilst grunge tore it up.
And, from the fiery ashes of Kyuss, lead guitarist Josh Homme recorded 1998’s Queens of the Stone Age, which encompassed all the grit of desert rock, but with a smattering of alt rock songwriting that left it feeling different.
Over the years and through the woods, Queens would go on to be one of the biggest hard rock bands of the 00s, with their 2000 and 2002 records, Rated R and Songs For The Deaf, giving us some of the best hits of the genre, including No One Knows and The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret. As their sound evolved, Homme & Co. became naturally more ambitious than Kyuss ever was, and the frontman’s attitude-drenched falsetto was the voice of a completely unique sound.
After a six-year hiatus following their debauched, industrial romp down Hollywood Blvd, Era Vulgaris, during which Homme had a brush with death after complications during knee surgery, bedridden for months, QOTSA made their return in 2013 with …Like Clockwork. Prefaced by singles My God Is The Sun (a return to those desert rock roots) and I Sat By The Ocean (a drifty, acidic break-up song), the album felt refreshing in a new way for a band, who had finally embraced the softer side that they so teased on tracks like I Never Came and In The Fade.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it definitely isn’t all doom and gloom, pianos and strings. As you’d expect from a QOTSA release, the amount of kickass rock hits is sufficient, as songs like the aforementioned My God Is The Sun and opener Keep Your Eyes Peeled to be sure to keep the Songs For The Deaf purists happy. In particular, Smooth Sailing manages to give us Queens at their most seedy and degenerate, characterised by the staggering rhythm and bleach-washed guitars, Homme’s falsettos crooning over the top of it – spitting the mantra “I blow my load over the status quo” like pure venom.
However, the album’s most interesting moments comes at its most introspective ones. …Like Clockwork’s front cover is adorned with Liverpool-based artist Boneface’s rendition of a classic 1931 Dracula promo still, featuring the titular Count embracing a woman who has seemingly succumbed to the darkness. It’s fitting then, as this exactly what Queens ask of you in …Like Clockwork; to take a trip with them down the rabbit hole. Whilst the aforementioned I Sat By The Ocean and penultimate track I Appear Missing, a brooding trip through the grooves of despair, touch on this newfound vulnerability, they do so with that same sense of guitar-heavy, riff-powered, rock power that we know from the band. This is especially true of the former, with the band powering through one of the crispest alt rock riffs of the decade and Josh serenading the bottle, drowning a failed love.
It is with two songs, a mere fifth of …Like Clockwork’s tracklist, however, that the album distinguishes itself entirely from the band’s catalogue, and, shock horror, they’re both piano ballads. Sure, I love November Rain, so the rock piano ballad that is hated by so many is no problem for me. With the eponymous track, …Like Clockwork, and The Vampyre Of Time And Memory, Queens of the Stone Age, Josh Homme, lets us into the deepest recesses of the soul. In a 2013 interview with SPIN, Homme said “I’m interested in the long arc of a lifetime of music, in a lifetime of being honest”. It’s with the aid of the piano we ditch the machismo of what we know QOTSA to be, and let those emotions run through the music. It also allows the band to experiment further with their sound, employing a wider range of electronic elements, including mellotron and synths, throughout the album. It is with …Like Clockwork, the grand finale, that we experience the height of catharsis, with the rousing strings merging with the staggering beat and distorted bass – and the sound becomes as one.
Lots of hugs, kisses and lacerations