I am way late to the party when it comes to becoming a fan of Queens of the Stone Age (QOTSA). In fact, I hadn't really bothered to listen to them until about a month ago when I was in Streetlight Records and they were playing an advance copy of the new album ... Like Clockwork.
My ears perked up when I heard this sound that was both fresh, loud and new, yet entirely familiar. When the album came out the following week, I sprang for the super deluxe version on 180-gram vinyl (45 RPM!) with a really spiffy cover and booklet. Suddenly, it felt like 1978 again and I was buying a new album I'd been anticipating for months. The album FELT huge just buying it in the store.
And from the from the first needledrop, the sound jumped out of the speakers that reminded me of everything I like about hard rock in the first place.
Now, for this review, I'm not going to try and analyze what the freakin' album is all about. I mean, when an album has vampires and skeletons and blood dripping zombies on the cover art, you can sort of surmise that this isn't going to be sunshine pop from The Free Design. I'm not worried about all the devil and zombie imagery. Many others dealt with those things in the past.
I have always reacted to music first from the instrumental sound and then gotten into the lyrics later and this is very much the case for ... Like Clockwork.
In fact, I'm enjoying listening to this QOTSA album in the context off all that has come before -- I hear a lot of influence of groups like Cream and Jack Bruce in particular, with his pushed over the top vocals that could go for a very melodic scream to a hushed whisper. I hear echos of Deep Purple and Mountain and Zeppelin and Sabbath... and West Bruce & Laing too.
And Pearl Jam... and Jeff Buckley.
Oh yeah. Heh heh.
My Jeff Buckley comment almost got me in hot water with some friends on a social media site recently, but I explained where I was coming from on this successfully, so I will reiterate it for you, Dear Readers, as well. In case you were not aware of his music, Jeff Buckley had an amazing but sadly brief run on this planet. In the mid-90s he left behind two influential albums that left their mark on many many people. If you listen to this new QOTSA album, you'll hear that influence. Consider: the rich, soaring voice that can shift from a soft coo to a wailing scream in a heartbeat... the interlocking, chugging metal rhythms hurtling the band into the zone where magic happens... moments of haunting quiet followed by sheets of sound. It is that crossroads where pop, rock and metal merge into something all its own.
It's all there on ... Like Clockwork.
I haven't been this impressed by a hard rock album in many years. Pearl Jam's Vitalogy was a big one for me -- I frequently called it the best 70s hard rock album of the '90s. Perhaps this one is the best '90's hard rock album of the the 2000s.
Its all about the songs and there are some amazing ones here:
• "I Sat By The Ocean" is one of those great Stones-y rock tunes you can't help but bob your head back and forth too, with a slide guitar hook that George Harrison would have blessed.
• "My God Is The Sun" is just so knocked out and powerful -- everytime I play it I get that same rush I get when putting on "The Song Remains The Same" from Zep's Houses of the Holy. It plays like a ballsier version of some Interpol tunes I've heard.
• "Fairweather Friends" has some very cool weird chords going on reminiscent of old Sebadoh -- and that is Elton John on piano (and vocals) in there. Really! "Smooth Sailing" sounds like a lost Prince outtake by way Rick Derringer and Edgar Winter.
• Probably my favorite tune here is "I Appear Missing" which is just gorgeously spooky-haunting, and again a somewhat harder take on flavors Interpol was playing with on their last album.
I could go on.
Oh, did I mention that Dave Grohl plays drums on a whole buncha tracks here?
The vinyl is pressed perfectly and is thick and quiet, spinning at 45 RPM. What's not to like? Probably the only disappointment is that free the FLAC download is only 44.1 kHz / 16-bit (ie. CD quality), but it still sounds fine for the car. Maybe someday HDTracks.com will get a higher resolution version. Until then, the vinyl is the way to go for best sound on this album.
And yeah, it's only rock and roll... but I still like it a whole lot. And I suspect you will too. Get it. Its one of the strongest rock albums I've heard so far this year.
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written. www.smotroff.com