swampy apocalyptic cabaret
Josh Homme – apparently pronounced to rhyme with ‘mommy’ according to the hippest of linguists – is rock’s Great Mobiliser, able to bring together some of the most proficient talent in a vast array of musical collectives. Along with contemporary and friend Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl – himself a serial collaborator of high regard – Josh Homme has all ten fingers and all ten toes in lots of different rock n roll pies at any one time. He’s the Johnny Pie-Fingers of rock n roll.
If he’s not playing guitar solos on Biffy Clyro records (“Bubbles”) or creating lysergic stoner rock out in the California desert with his all-star Desert Rock collective (whose semi-official bootlegs Desert Sessions Volumes 1-10 are well worth finding for their experimental audacity alone), Homme finds time to write theme songs for subversive TV shows (“Aqua Teen Hunger Force / Unit Patrol Squad 1”), produce Mastodon and Arctic Monkey albums and even coax Led Zeppelin’s most reclusive member John Paul Jones out into the open long enough to triangulate (along with Homme and Grohl) into Them Crooked Vultures, unofficially the greatest supergroup in the history of modern music.
All the while, Homme still manages to keep full time groups, Eagles of Death Metal and Queens of the Stone Age (QTSA), afloat and active, regularly releasing consistently respectable, genre-busting rock.
Like Clockwork is QTSA’s sixth album, and in addition to being a fantastic collection of the most sonically swashbuckling (Exhibit A: the latterly track “Smooth Sailing”, a veritable bayou pirate ship cruise, drunk on boxed fuzz, shrill shanty and bawdy lyrics), and one of the most intelligent rock music releases this year, the new album also fully embodies Homme’s communal spirit and his keen ear for the bizarre juxtaposition of musical motifs, using the most unlikely collaborators.
Cameos on the new album include Elton John (on both vocals and piano), grunge-folkster Mark Lanegan, Trent Reznor, Arctic Monkey Alex Turner and, most surprisingly, Jake Shears from Australian camp discoteers Scissor Sisters. That’s not the kind of roster you’d find on a Nickelback or Death Cab For Cutie album.
Along with Grohl (filling in for deserting drummer Joey Castillo) and regular Queens sidemen Troy Van Leeuwen (guitar), Dean Fertita (keyboards) and Michael Shuman (bass), Homme has created a worthy addition to QTSA’s already strong canon of dark, swampy apocalyptic cabaret.
Proceedings get off to an appropriately spooky start – the album’s ambience, if not its overwhelming theme is one of freak show oddity and mythological horror – with Keep Your Eyes Peeled, slow and dirgy, featuring Homme’s signature spectral guitar sound of demented riffs and scratchy tangents.
Track 4, If I Had A Tail, featuring a heroic riff, is the album’s first real stand-out and the first real chance to pick up on the little embellishments Homme likes to hide within the music, creating an evocative scavenger hunt that helps define the uniqueness of the QTSA sound.
Little guitar and keyboard melodies and percussive bass and drum bits creep in through the back of the song between the spaces of …Tail’s overdriven riff, producing a fleshy probing document that will draw many repeat listens, as do all the songs on this collection.
By the time the album’s best and most explored track, Fair-weather Friends appears – with all its anthemic ambition and celebrity stunt-casting (Elton John, Lanegan, Reznor all appear here) – the elements of the album’s identity have been fully cemented: dramatic and exciting musical ideas funnelled through a rock filter, uniquely prepared and concisely performed by Homme and cohorts without fear nor concern.
It’s refreshing to hear exploratory rock music like this in a day and age where more popular alternative rock music is so full of cliché and mundaneness. For this album to receive both critical and commercial success for its efforts, building on the band’s already well-established, well-deserved progressive credentials, positively rejuvenates the never-ending ‘is rock dead?’ debate. On Like Clockwork, it is not.