Vinyl Review: Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
From 1998 to 2009, Josh Homme released at least one album every year. Between Queens of the Stone Age, The Desert Sessions, Eagles of Death Metal and Them Crooked Vultures, he proved himself to be one of the hardest working people in hard rock, right behind occasional Queens and Vultures cohort Dave Grohl. But since 2009 we’ve hardly heard from Homme at all, with no album or even a guest appearance on someone else’s work save for a track on Grohl’s Sound City soundtrack.
Now Homme is finally back, and he brought the Queens of the Stone Age to boot, with …Like Clockwork, the group’s first outing since 2007’s disappointing (at least to me anyways) Era Vulgaris. Perhaps sensing that his absence may have lessened his rock stock, Homme brought the big guns with him for the group’s return. Like Clockwork (I’m dumping the ellipses from now on) is practically a who’s who of Queens collaborators; former members Dave Grohl, Nick Oliveri, Mark Lanegan and Joey Castillo all drop in for the occasional track, as do Homme’s friends Trent Reznor, Brody Dalle (The Distillers, Homme’s wife), Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys), Jake Shears (Scissor Sisters…oh shit, I just figured out how they got their name) and Elton fucking John.
So many big names, it’s like a Blind Faith record up in here.
Actually, that star-studded guest list is a bit misleading. While drummers Grohl and Castillo split duties throughout the record, the rest mostly show up for just a track or two. Appropriately, one of those tracks is the aptly-named “Fairweather Friends,” a fierce, pounding album highlight that sounds like Kansas gone metal, thanks to Elton’s backing piano and the layered, harmonious vocals accompanying Homme’s shredding. But the pace and intensity of that song is an outlier compared to the overall sound of the album. Only one other track, “My God Is Sun,” comes close to the fierceness of classic Queens material.
Aside from those, Like Clockwork is a pretty subdued affair. Even when the tempo steps up and Homme unleashes his guitar, things are kept pretty low-key, going for a more quiet, menacing feel than one of all-out power and speed. It’s more “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” and less “First It Giveth.” It might not hold its own in a mosh pit, but Like Clockwork works its slow, dread-inducing sound well with creepy tracks like “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” and the strangely sexy “Smooth Sailing,” where Homme skates the line between groovy and creepy with his oddly seductive vocal delivery coupled with some supremely disturbing lyrics.
If you’re willing to accept the change in style and pick up Like Clockwork, you have options. In addition to the digital and CD versions, there are also three different vinyl editions of the album, which are:
- The Standard edition (red cover) on two 150 gram 45RPM 12″ records
- The Limited Edition (blue cover) on two 150 gram 45RPM 12″ records
- The Limited Edition Deluxe (red cover) on two 180 gram 45RPM 12″ records, with an extra thick sleeve and an exclusive 20 page full-sized booklet.
The only difference between all the versions is the presentation. They all share the same 10 songs, a welcome change from previous Queens albums with different editions.
You can get the standard version pretty much everywhere, and while the deluxe version is sold out at Matador’s site, you can snag one on Amazon and a lot of other retail sites if you really feel like shelling out $60 for it. The only version that’s near-impossible to get is the regular limited edition. It was only made available at indie record stores only, and from what I can tell it’s not going to get another printing.
Confused? Yeah, me too. I had to open the browser on my phone and look this all up when I was at the record store just to be sure as to what version I was getting. Ended up I was grabbing the standard edition, which is fine by me. I don’t care about a special cover, and the 180 gram upgrade isn’t worth the massive price difference. Let me tell you a secret: 150 gram vinyl sounds no different than 180 gram vinyl. The only advantage to 180 gram vinyl is that it is a bit more durable and can probably stand up to repeated plays more than a 150 gram record. Vinyl weight has no bearing on audio quality, unless you’re getting into the real lightweight, 100 gram area.
While record vinyl weight doesn’t really matter, playing speed sure as hell does. The standard LP speed is only 33 and a third RPM because that’s the ideal speed for fitting what used to be a “standard” album length (45 minutes or so) onto a single record. But as anyone with a substantial singles collection cant tell you, records spinning at 45 RPM tend to sound better and more defined than their slower-spinning counterparts (read this for more information why), so it’s cool that the band went the 45 RPM route with Like Clockwork. To me, it really shows that they’re paying attention to what true vinyl aficionados want in a record.
Matador and Queens also should be lauded for going the extra mile with their download options; offering both MP3 and uncompressed FLAC for all versions. Sure, most people aren’t going to take advantage of the FLAC option, but it’s nice to see that they included it anyways. It is unfortunate though that both the FLAC and MP3 are too compressed and loud when compared to the vinyl. At least the low-key sound of the album stops it from feeling exhausting like the last Alice In Chains album was.
Like Clockwork isn’t my favorite Queens album. To be honest, it’s probably my least favorite next to Era Vulgaris, but it’s still substantially better than that record, and it’s great to see Homme back making new music after his extended hiatus. Here’s hoping that the next album with the Queens name doesn’t take six years to come out, and that he cranks the intensity up a bit for it as well.