A brief summary, in case you’re pressed for time. The title of the new Queens of the Stone Age album, …Like Clockwork, tells only half the story. The cover, featuring a goateed fellow in a high-collared vampire-style cloak against a neon red backdrop, tells the other half.
Our creepy friend from the cover makes sense almost immediately. The lead track, “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” features foreboding lines about “danger, monsters of smoke and mirror,” and the like. And lead vocalist and band lynchpin Josh Homme, together with Jake Shears (one of some half-dozen notable featured players), deliver the lines in appropriately churning, drugged-out croons that suggest none too subtly the ominousness of what’s to follow. It’s an uninspired and unpromising opener, one that all too accurately sets the tone for the rest of the record.
As if that weren’t enough, the third track dispenses with the notion of nuance altogether, not that “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” is a hallmark of subtlety, and flat-out name-checks a vampire. Actually, it’s “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” (check the archaic, and therefore cool, spelling). Now, unless your last name is Dylan, I usually don’t expect much of rock lyrics and I spend little time worrying over them. These, however, are so bad as to merit some attention:
You think the worst of all is far behind.
The Vampyre of Time and Memories has died.
I’ve survived. I speak. I breathe.
I’m alive. Hooray. You’re wrong again, ‘cause I feel no love.
Does anyone ever get this right?
Worthy of Keats, right? To add insult to injury, Homme’s vocal here is painfully slow, tedious, at once melodramatic and dry. With a lyric this absurd, you’ve either got to own it and play it like the gospel or disown it and deliver it like parody. Homme tries to have it both ways and the result is neither moving nor laughable, only irritating.
Song for song, the album is a bust. I can’t discern meaning, or anything approximating it, in these tracks. And that’s all right, or at least it could be. Bad songs do not necessarily make for a bad album, though they usually do. Sometimes sheer musicianship can carry the day. With Dave Grohl, Elton John, and Mark Lanegan on board, to name just a few, one might expect …Like Clockwork to be a rousing effort, if nothing else. Unfortunately, it isn’t, and the the record’s title brings the problem into focus. Too much of this album is given to flat dynamics and sluggish tempos that drag – you guessed it – like clockwork. Even relatively up-tempo numbers like “My God is the Sun” suffer from plodding treatments.
Granted, the group clearly has chops. This is all well-played stuff, occasionally expert, and most of the songs, even the most indulgent (“The Vampyre of Time and Memory” being perhaps the most obvious offender), boast minor redemptive moments - a cool guitar riff here, a nice vocal trick there. Also, to their credit, they’re able to work up and sustain a steady level of trippy menace over the course of the album. But the fact remains: these minor virtues aside, …Like Clockwork is a droning, incoherent endeavor, and it simply doesn’t reward the attention it’s asking for. [C+]