When you think of Herculean bands in the post-Zeppelin age—rock bands that’ve not only satiated critics and conquered radio, but have in the process permanently etched their inimitable logos into rock and roll history books—you might have to go back a ways. That is, unless, you count the Foo Fighters. Which I don’t.
Without overthinking it, you might get Sabbath, Queen, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana—bands that are essential to the heavy-rock continuum, and whose appeal at some point transcended… well, everything. It may be premature to put Queens of the Stone Age in with those bands, but if I were a betting man I’d put my money on Josh Homme and company being well on their way.
They made their name with 2000’s Rated R, and a couple years later with the more ambitious Songs For the Deaf—records that are heavy, smart and tuneful (and also led to the band getting unfairly slapped with the goofy “stoner rock” tag). Mostly, though, those records came out at a time when there really wasn’t a whole lot for rock fans to be excited about. It helps their case that, perhaps with the exception of 2007’s Era Vulgaris, QOTSA haven’t put out a bad album.
But it’s the Queens’ sixth LP …Like Clockwork—their first in six years, and their first for Matador—that plays a big part in this supposition of mine. It’s arguably the best QOTSA record to date (this coming from someone who loves Rated R and Songs For the Deaf). It also might be the first rock release of the dystopian blog-eat-blog era capable of recapturing the idea of music as a shared experience—that is, there are a lot of people waiting to get their ears in it. It doesn’t hurt that, as one of the few remaining rock bands from the pre-blog age, QOTSA established themselves before everyone got so damn fickle.
While Homme has always sought to please himself, there’s something for everyone in his music—even uppity rock snobs and downcast rock slobs. And …Like Clockwork satisfies on so many levels. It’s ambitious and meticulously assembled, seamlessly stacking leather-clad swagger with refined elegance. “I Sat By the Ocean” and “Smooth Sailing” chug along spewing a greasy trail of ’70s boogie exhaust. The piano-driven “The Vampyre of Time” and the closing title track take the biggest detours, venturing into rock opera grandeur. QOTSA stick closer to home on “If I Had a Tail” and “My God Is the Sun,” both of which bare those familiar razor-sharp riffs.
Even though QOTSA has always operated more as a collective, Homme deserves credit for maintaining a singular vision. Of course, it always felt as if this revolving cast gravitated toward Homme, rather than the other way around. …Like Clockwork features another star-studded guest list, longer than on any other record. Sir Elton John, Trent Reznor and Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner all make appearances alongside QOTSA alum Dave Grohl, Mark Lanegan and Nick Oliveri, although their contributions blend in with nary a trace. Of course, Homme is the man. And he’s still one cool motherfucker. And it’s his guitar work, his arrangements, and especially his pitch-perfect falsetto that occasionally slips between Valley Dude drawl and faux-British accent (Homme simply has the one of the best rock voices out there) that make Queens of the Stone Age what they are.
In 2013 there are other bands (perhaps even better ones) making heavy rock music that’s smart and catchy. What makes QOTSA one of the most important bands of the new millennium has always been Homme’s disregard for what’s going on around him. That said, no one sounds like Queens of the Stone Age, either. Consider …Like Clockwork more a rebirth than a reinvention.