BANG ON TIME
A drunken hit-man is still deadly. He may sway a little and his feet will look unsure but rest assured he will take you out using nothing more than the toe-nail clippers in your bathroom. Only the whiff of stale alcohol and your last cries will remain hanging in the air. If this all sounds a bit dramatic it’s because the latest offering from Queens of the Stone Age is just that: a pulverising cacophony of sound precariously balanced on a slippery edge destined to knock you off your feet whilst you cry for help…in a good way of course.
It’s been six years since their last release, ‘Era Vulgaris’, and although fans have had tiny fixes through Josh Homme’s side-projects, it’s been their thirst for a full blown dose of QOTSA that’s now being quenched. As with their previous five albums, the potent formula for their sound is born from the mind-tingling guitar riffs, driving bass-lines, blistering drums and Homme’s eerie yet powerful vocals. Superb production has been crucial to blend these traits all together, and once again with ‘…Like Clockwork’ the band have managed to deliver a record that sounds ‘clean’ without losing that hard-hitting rough edge.
There are new recruits to the band too – bassist Michael Shuman (Wires on Fire) and multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita (Raconteurs) bolster the main line-up. Drummer Joey Castillo’s departure during the recording process forced them to recruit long-time friend Dave Grohl for five of the ten tracks. It’s a very strong ensemble which is also peppered with guest slots from Elton John, Trent Reznor, Jake Shears, Alex Turner and Mark Lanegan.
The album’s first sounds are that of someone / something breaking through glass to get to the speakers (the drunk hit-man?), before unleashing the opener ‘Keep Your Eyes Peeled’. With its crunchy bass and sharp beat it sets the tone for the album, with Homme’s lyrics expressing a comfortableness within the darkness he’s feeling, “the view from Hell is blue…I daydream until all the blue is gone”. This sense of remoteness is all too apparent in the oddly radio-friendly ‘I Sat By the Ocean’ where he sings to an apparent muse ‘We’re passing ships in the night’, with Homme’s vocals intertwining effortlessly with Shuman’s bass.
It’s testament to the band’s craftsmanship that they can turn the speakers down from 11 and still maintain their impressive swagger, as they do on ‘The Vampyre of Time and Memory’. A beautiful piano-led ballad where Homme paints a picture of his sense of discord with the world, ‘I want God to come and take me home / ‘Cause I’m all alone in this crowd’, whilst the guitars and drums build to a controlled storm around him. It’s not long before they’re back in their more rock-driven and broody best with tracks like ‘If I Had A Tail’ with its gang-chorus featuring Alex Turner, Mark Lanegan and Nick Oliveri and ‘My God Is The Sun’ which features a guitar riff that seemingly gives a nod to The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’.
Perhaps the most surprising guest contributor is Elton John, an appearance cemented after he phoned Homme to suggest “the only thing missing from your band is an actual queen”. The call obviously worked as Elton lends his piano and vocal expertise on ‘Fairweather Friends’, an intricately woven track of Far Eastern-sounding guitar riffs, clinky piano and semi-operatic vocals. There’s a real sense of confidence here, no stone is left unturned on the musical landscape and despite the bombastic sounds there’s accessibility in what they’re trying to achieve.
The beautiful and sombre closing track ‘…Like Clockwork’ begins with just a piano accompanied by Homme’s haunting vocals, gradually it swells into a psychedelic war-cry that swarms the mind and eventually slips into a tight rhythm punched with heavy brass incidentals. It’s a brave way to end the album – stripping away the heavy distortion and blistering drums exposes a more sensitive yet bold side which is certainly welcoming. As Homme’s falsetto warns us that ‘it’s all downhill from here’, one can only hope that’s not a precursor for the future and more about the fact that the album is coming to an end. One thing is clear though – with ten bullet-like songs QOTSA show that they haven’t lost any of that hit-man-like prowess and accuracy.