First published in Spectrum (Sydney Morning Herald, weekend, June 8-9)
Bad boys of robot rock Queens of the Stone Age don’t fit the mainstream rock model. They’re not derivative and they don’t have family appeal. But mainstream they are. Singer and guitarist Joshua Homme appears often in celebrity gossip columns while his band dwells in one of popular music’s rare terra nullius outposts. No-one else sounds like Queens though many try.
It’s been six years since Era Vulgaris but, broadly, this is just another Queens record: intense, inventive, menacing and at its best on the heavier tracks. Barring the scorching start-to-finish achievement of 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyse, Queens albums are always upheld by a generous fist of tracks that pack an almighty punch amidst others that are good but not great.
This remains true on … Like Clockwork. Homme’s “manic year”, however, has seen him crack apart and open up, as he attests on ‘The Vampyre of Time and Memory’: “To be vulnerable is needed most of all /if you intend to really fall apart”. ‘Fairweather Friends’, meanwhile, has Elton John on piano but is all huff and puff with no riff.
The damaged goods vibe of the remaining songs more than compensates. Ying and yang balance on ‘Kalopsia’, which bookends abrasive guitars with a seasick waltz. Similarly, during the bestial skulk of ‘Keep Your Eyes Peeled’, a sunshine ray of falsetto splits the dark clouds apart. Homme’s nauseated croon is commanding on ‘My God Is The Sun’ and, despite the album closing with a second unashamed ballad, he still strides out with all the cool, casual danger of an Al Pacino-esque anti-hero.
Imbued in every song, too, is the promise of its immensely more heavy live delivery.