Josh Homme and his all-star pals prove the virtue of taking your sweet time on a record that’s as self-assured as it is damn sexy. Most bands don’t leave their fans waiting six long years for a new album. They don’t then promote said record by getting a creepy robot to leave their fans unsettling voicemails. And they definitely don’t enlist a chef to write the album notes. But Queens Of The Stone Age aren’t most bands. As badass menu maverick Anthony Bourdain says in ‘…Like Clockwork’’s accompanying bumf: “[Josh] Homme has consistently demonstrated a business plan of not giving a shit.” The heroic frontman and kingpin of these desert titans might not care about industry whys and wherefores, but Josh Homme gives every single last fuck when it comes to crafting blow-your-mind-and-incinerate-your-crotch rock’n’roll.
As contemporary hard-as-nails guitar music’s most imposing figure – and not just because he stands at 6 foot 4, has a fondness for triple denim and looks like a pre-Raphaelite, Triumph-straddling Elvis – Josh has earned the right to do what the hell he wants. Thankfully, that’s gathering his world-beating buddies in his Pink Duck studio in LA and laying down an unrelenting juggernaut.
Much has been made already of the high-end guests. The core collaborators from QOTSA’s classic ‘Songs For The Deaf’ are scattered across the release, Josh once again motoring across the crest of Dave Grohl’s brutal drums with Mark Lanegan and Nick Oliveri popping up briefly to ride sidecar. Then there’s turns from Arctic Monkey Alex Turner, Scissor Sister Jake Shears, Nine Inch Nail Trent Reznor and, bafflingly, brilliantly, Sir Elton John. Not that you’d know any of this unless you were told. Their restrained assistance means there’s no danger of this turning into a sprawling, unfocused ‘Josh and friends’ record.
Considering their lengthy absence, to return with a double album would have been more than acceptable, but ‘…Like Clockwork’ comes in at a mere 10 tracks. The crap filter has been whacked up to 11 and the groove-o-tron set to interstellar for the band’s slickest offering to date. Al Turner slinks through the saloon doors for ‘If I Had A Tail’, a track predatory enough to warrant a restraining order. “I wanna suck/I wanna lick/
I wanna cry/I wanna spit”, growls Josh, against a grimy strip-bar swagger. It’s the perv-funk sound of drunkenly sinking into sticky leather couches for steamy make-out sessions in dimly lit Hollywood smut-pits.
The same filthy feeling abounds on the ferocious but perfectly polished ‘Smooth Sailing’. “I’m in flagrante/In every way”, confesses Josh, before adding, almost as an afterthought, “I blow my load over the status quo”. Quite. Yet there’s also a more meditative flipside to ‘…Like Clockwork’. ‘The Vampyre Of Time And Memory’ is a startlingly low-key piano hymnal, even with its flashes of Giorgio Moroder synths and cocaine-soul guitar solo. Its confessional lyrics, set against a twisted power ballad melody, come on like an even more fucked-up Fleetwood Mac. “Does anyone ever get this right?/I feel no love”, purrs Josh. ‘Kalopsia’, featuring Reznor, is another haunting slow jam, but pulls a flick-knife chorus on you, amping up the menace with eerie backing vocals that echo the melancholy “sha-bop- sha-bop”s of The Flamingos’ version of skulking doo-wop ode ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’.
‘…Like Clockwork’ closes with the title track, perhaps the least QOTSA-sounding song ever. If MGM are hunting the next Bond movie theme creator, this should swing it for Josh, as he indulges his dexterous falsetto, channelling the sweeping, string-laden ’60s scores of John Barry, with production help with the man from UNKLE, James Lavelle. Last year, Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil praised Queens Of The Stone Age for their ability to make sexy records. “Which I think is hard to do in a rock band,” he said. That’s because Queens Of The Stone Age aren’t most rock bands – they’re the rock band.