Excitement and delayed satisfaction are tricky things. We all know that a project can collapse under ridiculous expectations, falling short of delivering something biblical for the hungry masses (see: The 20/20 Experience, for me at least). Or a project can meet expectations in ways that are completely unexpected, delivering something so ahead of its time (and yet, not) that your brain needs time to catch up, like my first viewing of The Matrix (see: Random Access Memories).
Queens of the Stone Age haven’t put out an album that I love since releasing the classic Songs for the Deaf, one of my favorite albums OF. ALL. TIME. The two follow-ups didn’t have that same oomph, that same liveliness, hunger or creativity. They weren’t terrible; they just didn’t meet expectations.
My affair with their latest, …Like Clockwork, has been a rough ride. Bootlegged clips of live performances left me cold. First single “My God Is The Sun” didn’t impress. Even my first couple viewings of their animated teasers failed to ignite my inner Queen. And then they released a 15-minute short film of those animated snippets.
I think I’ve listened to this 15-minute song loop at least 20 times in the past couple weeks. That’s, what, 5 hours? Yeah, more or less. And I’m listening to it right now. Not only is the animation bloody, brutal, and twisted, it’s also a hypnotic visual glimpse into the “psyche” of this album. It’s a creepshow, a violent, churning nightmare from the dark corners of our hearts and minds. I credit the cartoon with plunging me headlong into a rewarding love affair with this new album. You should really watch it.
Now that the album is up and ready to stream, of course I had to give it a go-round. Here are my initial first-listen thoughts.
1. “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”
Chugging and lurching, this song sets the tone for the rest of the album: shit’s going to get twisted. You’ll feel some despair, some anxiety, some sluggish sonic mud. But there’s ghoulish harmony (with Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters?!?!??!), there’s aching falsetto, there’s some beautiful riffage — lest you forget which band you’re listening to. I’m so excited for the rest of this album. And what? Sad violin at the end? Yes.
2. “I Sat By The Ocean”
Man, this song is just a doozy of feel-goodery and groovy fucking riffage. I think this and “If I Had A Tail” are my early favorites, only because they are so catchy. One of the issues I had with their previous two albums was the lack of pop-centric focus — it was too many “ideas for songs” and not enough follow through. This track just makes my shoulders shimmy and my head nod.
3. “The Vampyre of Time and Memory”
LOL this starts off sounding like a NIN Fragile-era track… then it becomes a sad piano ballad. Break out them tissues! There’s some old sci-fi lasers squiggling their way through the keys, but this is mostly sad, introspective suicide fodder.
4. “If I Had A Tail”
YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS, this is really my favorite track on the album. It’s cool, full of swagger, like a Stones song. This is the track with Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys, whose penchant for groove seems to have rubbed off on Josh Homme. This is glorious rock and roll, especially the epic ending. Gitchie gitchie, ooh la la!
5. “My God Is The Sun”
This song is a blast, a fist to the face, a riff-explosion to the bowels. Something to put hair on your chest. The bass churns, the drums smash and Homme sounds like he’s raising the dead with the power of these chords. Grohl is on this song (and a few others), smashing the shit out of his drum kit. Truly badass.
Trent. Reznor. That’s pretty much all I need to say about this track. OK fine, some words. It starts slow, creepy. Then the boys jump in with a lot of shout-singing, then harmonizing, then I’m just smiling like an idiot because I love when my musical heroes play together in the sandbox. The overall tone of the track reflects its title: it does sound vaguely like a calliope, a twisted comedown from a dark Hell carnival.
7. “Fairweather Friends”
There was some promise at the start: I heard some bouncy jangles, some playful notes. Playful? Who am I kidding… it’s relatively straightforward…. and then there’s some guitar wailing that might save this track from the garbage pile. But truthfully: if this is my “least” favorite on the album so far, that’s not bad at all. And that ending is very LOL-worthy. Oddest thing about this griping and whingeing? It features Elton John (yes, really), Trent, and my girl (and Homme’s wife) Brody Dalle from Distillers/Spinerette. It should be more awesome…
8. “Smooth Sailing”
FUNKAAAAAAY! Damn bitch, this makes me want to STRUT… whilst not giving a fuuuuuhk. “Bruises and hickeys/Stitches and Scars/Got my own theme music/Plays wherever I are.” Fuck yeah: if that isn’t my new life motto, I don’t know what could take its place. #1 Cool Song on this album.
9. “I Appear Missing”
This is a gorgeous, gorgeous song. Full of power, full of purpose, driving and grand, perfect for a stadium. The guitars soar, the harmonies blast into space. I envision a lot of air guitar noodling in front of my bathroom mirror this summer.
10. “…Like Clockwork”
We end on a beautiful piano ballad that morphs into an old California-flavored track from the ’70s. Or at least that’s what it sounds like to me. This whole record, it sounds like we’ve been trapped in a filthy post-apocalyptic city full of dark alleys and festering sewers. Now we’re finally back in old Queens territory: a wide open desert. It’s an all-in jam session here, going all over the place, but returning to that pretty piano. A fitting end to a tight record.
This album isn’t an epic Year-Changer like Random Access Memories, just a really great rock and roll album, which we are sorely, sorely in need of these days. I’ll rank it in the top 3 QOTSA albums, up there with Rated R and Songs for the Deaf.
…Like Clockwork is out on June 4th on Matador.