Welcome to the Stone Age
Six years after their last album, The Queens of the Stone Age clawed their way out of some crack in the earth, picked up their instruments and became the epicenter of an earthquake.
Front man Josh Homme was not waiting for stars to align. No, he was tearing down the dark backdrop and distilling it into a cold, meticulous, brooding punch in the jaw unlike, and better than, anything he has accomplished before.
“…Like Clockwork” stomps, shrieks, howls, mourns and rends, all unapologetically, and all echoing their way to you like gallons of water dumped down a well shaft.
“Keep Your Eyes Peeled” starts the album with a bass line that wants to leap off the edge of the Earth. Homme throws in a few vocal delicacies before dooming us with the final line: “Praise God nothing is as it seems.”
And nothing is as it seems. The Queens hit the clutch and shift us into a high-speed chase, us following the riff and Homme racing far ahead, throwing Michael Jackson-esque falsettos at us. “I Sat by the Ocean” is the most pop-oriented of the lot.
Then our pace slows into “The Vampyre of Time and Memory.” Homme sinks his teeth into existential musings as backing synthesizer places you more in Clockwork Orange’s Korova Milk Bar than this reality. The song builds into an almost Descartes’ philosophical conclusion of existence, but falls into disillusion, shooting us straight into the light-scattered-by-diamond riff of “If I Had a Tail.”
This disco-stomp, predatory movement is a gem. Its motion feels like a car chugging along, windows down, through a desolate, night-soaked cityscape, summed up by the line “Animals in the midnight zone. When you own the world, you’re always home.”
From here we lose grip. The world turns black and the ground falls from under us. In “My God is the Sun,” the guitar fires off a Mastodon-style riff and Homme, our sole vision, stretches far above us and shakes his fist to the sky. Momentarily we jolt into a tempo change akin “We Can Work It Out,” then pelvic thrust back into the riff. We are left with the beating heart of an iron horse, transitioning into “Kalopsia.”
This song produces the weightlessness of a soft summer night, then rips us from that dream and throws us into an snarling riff. The same effect repeats, like being in a sweet comatose followed by those first gasping breaths of consciousness.
The next piece, “Fairweather Friends,” features a slew of outsiders, from Trent Reznor to Elton John. It starts with a chorus of saints then slides into a tangle of noise. Without much direction in the song and Homme at the wheel, the crew traverses the length of the continental United States and back, leaving tumultuous exhaust in their wake.
Just as prone to noisy fits, “Smooth Sailing” is a dirty stomp dance number packed with more falsetto, guitar screeches like old Queens’ songs and a groove similar to Homme’s other project, Them Crooked Vultures. “Smooth Sailing” floats evenly amid the rough waves.
Then we are landlocked, and the riff pulls us into a twisted backwoods. The sound splashes quickly into harder elements, placing us between two worlds in the emotionally packed “I Appear Missing.” At one point, double bass and glass chimes appear to guide the song to a close. Silence. A heavy burst follows, hooking us back in, then into softer sounds, with the drums snapping to Homme’s words. The song’s chorus provides an outlet of loss and destruction. Homme gives a final chilling reprieve, and the music fades.
The last song, and title track, “Like Clockwork,” is not as momentous a closer as “I Appear Missing.” The soft piano and vocals are fitting for a bar of sad faces overlooking a twinkling city, with all the faces working up the courage to jump. There is a bluesy guitar, a fuzzy bass that booms like deep horns and we are left with Homme’s final line: “One thing is clear: it’s all down hill from here.”
But is it?
“…Like Clockwork” invites you down the rabbit hole to the Queens’ subterranean lair. It’s an otherworldly place where hope is extinguished and the rock n’ roll is alive, kicking and damn attractive.