QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE BEAT THE BLUES WITH THE BLUES …LIKE CLOCKWORK

Illness, depression, failure, all rolled up into one bad trip.  Queens Of The Stone Age and Josh Homme will take you along...

Illness, depression, failure, all rolled up into one bad trip. Queens Of The Stone Age and Josh Homme will take you along…

Where does one begin to detail the woe that begot …Like Clockwork?  For Josh Homme, the woe begins with a relapse of his knee ailment that had been plaguing him since the Lullabies To Paralyze era when he was on tour in Europe.  The concert tour for Lullabies To Paralyze yielded a DVD, Over The Years And Through The Woods, which was released on both video and audio.  During the video, at a point around “I Never Came”, he asks the audience who wants his cane and throws it out to the crowd, then instantly winces as it flips precariously into the sea of craniums.

During this tour, Homme was also infirmed with a respiratory ailment.

Not to mention, it can’t do one’s mental state any benefit to run out your label contract.  Interscope had been micromanaging Homme about how they wanted this album to sound, to the point where Homme FIRED (yes, the final word out there is Homme fired) drummer Joey Castillo about ¾’s of the way though the process of making …Like Clockwork.  So it is no surprise that this record is on both Homme’s ‘Rekords Rekords’ label, and new Queens Of The Stone Age distributing label is Matador out of New York City.  An upstart indie label, not exactly the powerhouse that Interscope was.

More reason to worry.

Be mindful of the fact that Homme and wife Brody Dalle (Distillers fame) have two children now.

So it was to his additional terror that Homme spent four plus months bedridden following surgical difficulties and complications.  This sent Homme into a funk of uncertainty.  It then fell on to the four core members of Queens Of The Stone Age to cajole Homme into making more Queens music.  He agreed, but there were conditions…

First, Homme initiated all four into his own personal anguish.  Homme felt that for the band members understand why he would be writing some dire, introspective and (even for Queens) unusual music, they needed to walk the proverbial mile in his shoes.

Once he took the members down to his level, emotionally speaking, he took them with him all the way back to the first album.  Homme secured the rights to the first Queens Of The Stone Age self-titled album, remixed it, added bonus tracks and distributed it from his own Rekords Rekords label.  Yours dubitably managed to see this tour at Terminal 5 in New York City.  The review was posted here recently as part of our Friday Flashback.

Then came what was perceived by uninvolved band members as the unthinkable.  Homme fired long time drummer Castillo.  Songs For The Deaf drummer Dave Grohl was called in to play on some of these quirky introspective tunes.  As the album was recorded in Homme’s Pink Duck Studios in Burbank, a cast of quality performers and old friends were brought in.  Friends like Nick Oliveri, Alain Johannes, Mark Lanegan, Trent Reznor, Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears, Dalle, Elton John, Alex Turner, James Lavelle, and two drummers of note: first, Joey Castillo.  Some of what he did was good enough to make the final cut.  Second, former Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore.  Theodore is of note because he is the touring drummer for Queens Of The Stone Age now!  Will he be a member?  You need to recall that Queens started as a rotating band.  People came in, people went out.  No telling if Queens will become the new Spinal Tap…

This cast of rock royalty is joined by the four full-fledged members, Homme, Troy Van Leeuwen, Mikey Shuman and Dean Fertita.  Let’s see where this musical mass carries us on its rampage to ruin.

The disc opens up with “Keep You Eyes Peeled”.  This track starts with eerie, haunting sounds and some glass breaking noises interspersed.  Then when the band kicks in, we are greeted with a downtempo, snarling, stomping dirge.  I guess it’s in vogue to start albums off with downtempo dirges.

The intro drum beat is met with a metallic low note until the very dissonant riff comes in.  Finally, Homme joins in with the lyrics.

A note about this album, I will do my best to interpret the lyrics since we do have plethora of information about the origin of this album.  However, I will be hard pressed to figure out what went on in Homme’s head as these lyrics were composed.  Near death, suffering from depression, absorbing loss, interpretation is a crap shoot.

The chorus picks the tempo up long enough to dust it off and get the mud out of its soles.  A break comes in and takes the chordal structure in a more pensive path, pondering the view from hell as ominous blue sky.  The second chorus is slightly more dynamic which allows the song to jump to an uptempo break espousing the worth of life.

We are but rag dolls.

Verse three has adornments until the last two lines which are paired down to the riff guitar and clicking drums sticks and some echoing, bell-like synths.  Only to end on a mournful cello line.

When I first heard “I Sat By The Ocean” on NPR Music on May 23rd (they did an online simulcast of a live QOTSA show) I could have sworn they reached into their bag o’ covers and pulled out a Billy Squire song.  When the slide guitars came in, I was never more relieved to be under the wrong impression.

Second song in and I can say, this disc is mastered so hot it makes global warming look like a single birthday candle…

But for “…Ocean” the verse structure is far more complex than anything Squire would have come up with.  Lyrically, this is a classic love not mutual story.  The chorus will infest and infect your earwig vulnerability for days as well as inflate the dynamic of the song.  That is, until everything stops and we revisit the intro, complete with slide guitars in full effect.

The second verse finds Homme getting highly introspective about unrequited love and lies.

A couple of bridge repeats into a gang slide solo and some explosive instrumentation with a repeat of the line ‘passing ships in the night’ with the word ‘night’ fed into a slow decay reverb.

Being a long time QOTSA fan (I got into them around R) I have heard Homme’s vocals evolve over the years.  I thought he found his voice for Songs For The Deaf.  I don’t know if it was the coma, being bedridden, an intubation hose, but for these songs, Homme’s voice is amazingly clear, the high register is now much more powerful and strong!

“The Vampyre Of Time And Memory” starts off with a synth into a humble piano with a dry Homme vocal.  A synth also accents the first bridge.  The full band comes in for a modest solo while the song assumes full ballad mode.  Shuman’s bass takes a lead in terms of volume and rhythm.  The chorus is a direct referral to Homme’s recent health scare.  A more complex solo comes in before the band explodes to the end.

“If I Had A Tail” starts out with a simple guitar melody made not-so-simple by the use of a pitch mod pedal on the last note of the note sequence.  What this pedal does is take the note and dramatically alter its pitch up or down depending on settings and foot pedal position.  When the rest of the instruments join in, a very restrained arrangement takes over.

But when the chorus comes in, look out!  Cymbal hits puncture the lyrics about crushing foes with an imaginary appendage.  Then when the vocal ad-lib portion comes in, the drums assume a more ‘disco’ feel with quarter-note open high hats.

The first four lines of verse one and two stick in my head and don’t go away for days…

A solo comes in after that vocal ad-lib portion and it has, attitude.

Another verse and then a chorus that can’t curtail all the additional instruments popping in until they all join in for a melody line out of a haunted house.  When the instruments pick back up to a verse structure, Homme adds vocal ad-libs and some unique lyrics when all of the sudden, BAM, the structure changes into a double note vamp.  They end on the haunted melody line.

So many changes, it’s tough to keep up.  If these guys aren’t progressive…

But surprise!  They DON’T end on the riff, they end on an excessively processed vocal rises up from the void until finally the words become audible and apparent that Homme is repeating the ‘If I had a tail, I’d own, the night’ line.

IF you listen to radio or online streaming, or have a Facebook account, you have heard the single from the album, “My God Is The Sun”.  A shaker and the guitar riff start the song, but the band joins right in during the playing of that first riff, accenting it with four hits until the drums form the beat.  Once the beat is established the bass and drums form the verse as only the vocals join in at first.

Downstroke notes punctuate the chorus until the main melody riff takes back over but stops for some percussion breaks.  The second verse has some minor tweaks to the structure to make it different.  At the end a break with synths emulating voices.  The lyrics allude to our insignificance.  A solo and a vocal ad-lib join another chous but the arrangement constantly differs to keep you on your toes and if your mind wanders there is always another bombast of the riff to snap you out of your complacency.

I, myself, am dying to know what Homme experienced (if anything) during that coma…

Demented noises from guitars and synths build until the sound emulates breathing and a heartbeat which cuts right into “Kalopsia”, another almost ballad.

An unusual timbre on the drums, a very drum machine sounding snare drum simplifies the beat along with a synth bass and some ornamental synth propel the first verse and bridge.  Again, the chorus is almost nuclear in its impact on the dynamic, the only warning you receive is a pick slide scrape on a wound string and then that radioactive chorus.  On the last line of that powerful chorus, the masters of dynamic hold the note as Homme asks ‘Is it wonderful?’.

A synth solos over backing vocals repeating the word kalopsia.  An ornate riff intros a subdued solo before returning to the verse.  The second pick scrape obscures the last line of the second verse.  The chorus explodes with more megatons to support the ascending dynamic.  Homme ruins his vocal chords on the last word ‘hell’.  Then a new riff is introduced under up and down sliding guitars.

A demented chorus (most likely including co-author of the song and former QOTSA contributor Mark Lanegan) sing a six note phrase twice to open “Fairweather Friends”.  The chorus is joined by a high hat count-in leading to an eight note build with a whole note hold showcasing some guitar notes.  All of this eventually goes away for a mosted guitar chord sequence and lone vocals.

We build again for verse two.  After the bridge verse are off, Hommes trademark complex but short solos is featured.  But after the next chorus, the band breaks into one of the heaviest sections on the album so far.  A dead stop brings a change to the melody and structure.

For a micro verse, the band rests for the opening line but blows out right away for the second line.  The third line harkens back to their debut album’s track “Walkin’ On The Sidewalk” where Homme recycles the line ‘drink wine and screw’.  After that, the band breaks out and another uniquely Homme solo fires up.

The alternate chorus has the chorus structure, but different slightly, dueling lead vocal lines, and as the dynamic level rises, everything is cut short with an edit beep and Homme is heard to say ‘I don’t give a shit about them anyway’.

“Smooth Sailing” starts with a rhythmic scrape-type sound that yields to harmony guitar notes chiming in unison.  But when the band starts off, there is no other way to describe it: The track has a strut feel.  Doesn’t matter how many instruments you add, they all strut!  But that strut rhythm suggests that Homme may be guilty of digging into his Eagles Of Death Metal bag of tricks for this one.  The feel of the music, the falsetto voice (which he uses a lot on this album) both point to the fact that this song may very well have been an EODM reject.

When the chorus rolls around, there is an undulating guitar in there, but no less strut.  After two verses and after the second elongated chorus, the harmony drone notes put us into a new part with a new riff and some solo notes which is short-lived as a lick put us back to the verse structure for a guitar solo.  They repeat this structure into a chorus, the longer one.  The loop back to the drone note and go to the break verse.

A new riff is brought in behind the repetition of  the lyric, ‘closed mind’, and as that gives way to a double note ending which collapses as Homme inserts the onomatopoeia of ‘Pow’.

My favorite track on the album is “I Appear Missing”.  This is a direct, overt and mournful account of Homme’s recent life-altering experience.  How can one think any way else when the opening line is ‘Calling all comas…’?  While it is mournful in the verse, it bashes and explodes during the chorus.  The structure of the song is back and forth between quiet verse and loud chorus over lyrics that again, detail Homme’s hospitalization.

After verse two, a break comes in that again refers to several older QOTSA tunes but is still new and serves to break the flow of the song (but in a good way).

We return to the amped up chorus but this time there is a nice harmony with the lead vocal.  During the last line, a slight change in structure is added for an extra chorus lyric line until a high-powered polyrhythm break until a stop where the chorus and verse dichotomy are interspersed for two measures of one, two measures of the other.  A triplet series is interjected into the rowdy verse.  We reorganize with some random breaks into one last chorus.

A solos is introduced over a new section, during which the solo guitar also uses the pitch pedal and then a new lyrical structure with a new melody is inserted into the arrangement.  Eventually the musical track is peeled away to minimalistic levels leaving the vocals to ring alone.

These lyrics, especially the last chorus (‘Shock me awake, tear me apart, pinned like a note to a hospital gown, deeper I sleep, further down, the rabbit hole, never to be found’) are nothing less than Homme coming right out and saying ‘Look, I almost died, get real or get lost’!

Maybe I don’t want to know what Homme went through in that coma after all…

The title track is simple in its lyrical structure.  A verse, a chorus, a two line verse, then a chorus.  The musical arrangement is slightly more complicated.

It starts simply enough with a melancholy piano.  Homme’s vocals join in.  Minor strings join on the chorus.  Once the chorus is over, full band and slide solo come in.  Bombastic drums propel the band behind the slide.  Triplet beats behind a chorus support the solo dynamics, which build then disappear only to return softer in level.  The short verse is punctuated with Homme’s vocal and hard triplets.  The second chorus is altered lyrically and in spots, triplets punctuate or accents are placed in strategic spots.  Those hard triplets usher in the end.

This has been one tough disc to dissect.  With Homme, Van Leeuwen, Shuman and Fertita contributing parts, there must have been ideas flying all over Pink Duck Studios.  So to put one concept here, one idea there, a part added, a part subtracted…  Something I have to address is the Castillo issue.  There were so many rumors flying around as to his departure from the band.  Once source claims Homme fired Castillo, Homme said in one interview it was mutual, but I have my own theory.  Listen to this music.  It is perhaps the most delicate, intimate, and mellow Queens Of The Stone Age album ever.  Castillo is from the Danzig school of playing, what we call a basher.  I think this post-coma version of Queens was too introspective for Castillo and Homme knew it.  Even tougher is the thought that, were it not for medical science, there may not have been a …Like Clockwork, there may not have been a Josh Homme.  So to sum it up, get your ass to a CD store, or order it direct from Matador records online, but however you get it, get it.  This record is not to be missed!!

EPILOGUE:  As this review was being entered on the site, Fox news (yes, I know, you can’t trust anything you hear on Fox news) reported that …Like Clockwork rose to number one on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart for the week this review was posted.  Congratulations guys!  Tremendous work!  Just, next time, Josh, can you make a record this good without teetering on the brink of death?

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