Queens Of The Stone Age are embarking on the final stretch of an extensive and triumphant world tour celebrating the their sixth full-length album, ‘…Like Clockwork’, and intend to crown it with the mother of all Halloween parties in LA.
Seeing as it is a record that was very nearly never written, due to maestro and mastermind Joshua Homme’s “brush with death”, I thought it pertinent to go back and celebrate the band’s 1998 debut, which was also birthed in hardly ideal circumstances. The group’s tightly packed nucleus has proven mercurial, yet the band’s sound has remained utterly distinctive. It’s worth remembering their roots, should we ever lose them to the dust of the California desert for good.
With mortality in mind, ‘…Like Clockwork’ feels like an album ignited and fuelled by retrospection and re-evaluation; the title’s easily overlooked ellipsis becomes an open invitation to remember the genealogy and heritage that defines what we’re about to hear before we plunge hungrily ahead. So, shall we?
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Homme has described the lean, taut sound of his debut record as “robot rock”, stating that he “just wanted to start a band that, within three seconds of listening, people knew what band it was”. The first three seconds of opening track ‘Regular John’ not only introduce Queens Of The Stone Age to the world, but also serve as a formidable statement of intent, for only four minutes and 35 seconds later it’s difficult to remember anything else.
And yet, just as ‘Regular John’’s last gasp of heart monitor-like feedback begins to flatline, the rumbling drums and staccato guitars of ‘Avon’ thunder into glorious, restorative life. In fact, the album’s pace seems to relent only in order to allow the listener a few fleeting, feverous breaths before ramping back up again, faster and more urgent still.
The rhythmic lurch of ‘You Would Know’ somehow rises in perfect synchronisation with the pulsing throb of blood in your ears amid the delirious, cloying fuzz and desiccated hiss. But, just as Homme’s lethargic lament begins to fall somewhere between the lucid and the lurid, ‘How To Handle A Rope’ and ‘Mexicola’ pile-drive the album back into reckless abandonment, all but tripping over themselves in a hail of grit and cymbal howl.
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‘You Would Know’, live in 2002
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It is perhaps not entirely surprising that the intensity of direction on ‘Queens Of The Stone Age’ seems honed almost to the point of audience submission, for Homme wrote and performed much of the instrumentation and produced the lion’s share of the record himself. It may be just as significant, if not more so, to consider that Homme initially wanted no such responsibility, having delegated duties to the inaugural iteration of QOTSA only for it to disband as the debut was due to be recorded.
Without a band and unable to find a frontman for the project, Homme took matters into own hands and started from the beginning again, a sentiment echoed in the development of the most recent album. Therefore it is not only the first three seconds, or even the first song, that defines what Homme set out to create, but the whole of this debut record that serves as a blueprint, a benchmark, an indelible baseline to veer away from and/or return to.
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‘How To Handle A Rope’
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For even though the tightly straining tension of ‘Queens Of The Stone Age’ may sound a far cry from the stomping pomp and wooziness of the band’s more recent output, there are still signs of what was yet to come buried amidst its fevered 4/4 urgency and sinewy, Kraut-soaked down strokes. The instrumental ‘Hispanic Impressions’ breaks this seemingly relentless mould with a rhythmic swagger and flagrant bravado akin to that of 2002’s Songs For The Deaf and, although it has no vocals, suggests Homme’s now well-known aptitude for playful self-awareness and wry observation. Though it is the surreal and sparse album closer, ‘I Was a Teenage Hand Model’, that signifies the album’s inevitable downward spiral, out of control and into delirium. As the record comes to its cataclysmic end, the ‘robot rock’ band that Homme set out to create has started to transmute.
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‘I Was A Teenage Hand Model’
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I think we’re in a sweet spot between Homme’s renewed vigour and the calibre of the musicians he has gathered around him over the last 16 years, supplementing and/or subverting his songs in myriad unexpected ways. I hear more of the evolution of ‘Queens Of The Stone Age’ in ‘…Like Clockwork’ than in any of the band’s other endeavours, and I think that’s due in part to the parallels in each album’s gestation: just as the eponymous set teetered on the brink of undoing, QOTSA’s latest is an album that a new, fragile Homme initially had no intention or desire to make, and yet both have come to define or, in the latter’s case, redefine the band.
Considering this, I wouldn’t be surprised if the forthcoming Halloween extravaganza not only marks the end of the ‘…Like Clockwork’ campaign, but, quite fittingly, celebrates the return from death and the unfathomable experience of beginning again. Which not only excites me for what may be to come, but has me treasuring those first three seconds even more.
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Listen to 'Queens Of The Stone Age' in full via Deezer, below.
Words: Nestor Matthews
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