Queens of the Stone Age – In Times New Roman…

Josh Homme mines his trauma to create a dark and seductive return…

It’s no secret that Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme has had a rough few years. While this reviewer has no interest in retreading the ins and outs, it’s prudent to mention that personal losses, incorrect hearsay, and intense upheaval have colored this eighth album from the alt-rock veterans. Last time around, we had ‘The Ginger Elvis’ living up to his nickname by shimmying to a Mark Ronson-produced foot tapper, just one slice of a brilliantly silly marketing campaign for 2017’s ‘Villains.’ Not so much now. ‘In Times New Roman…’ is a forceful and mean-sounding record with no time to play around – and it’s all the better for it.

While the aforementioned ‘Villains’ had its moments, the outfit’s attempt to embrace dancey grooves was let down by a lack of memorable numbers. Now, the band’s always had groove, bucketloads of the stuff, but they should never forget that they’ll also desert rats at heart. The marriage of grit, bounce, and psyched-out weirdness makes for a good Queens number, and we’re happy to report this latest full-length is filled with them. 

Things kick off with ‘Obscenery,’ a hard riffing but seemingly by-the-numbers track utilising Homme’s higher range over Jon Theodore’s reliably pounding drums. At the halfway point, however, instruments melt away, replaced by orchestral strings before the band suddenly remerges off the back of a sweeping melancholic chorus. It’s a curveball, but a welcoming one, declaring to listeners that this album isn’t going to go where you expect it to. 

To cement this point, the following ‘Paper Machete’ sees Homme dropping the sort of deliciously gnarly riff that wouldn’t be out of place on the band’s 1998 debut. It’s a fantastic back-to-basics return that does what it’s intended to – fucking rock. No airs or graces, just a stonking riff, and a widdily guitar solo that older fans will lap up. Yet this simplicity masks some of Homme’s most vulnerable writing, the song dealing with the extremely messy fallout from his divorce from Brody Dalle. “The truth is just a piece of clay – You sculpt, you change, you hide, then you erase.”

On the woozy ‘Made To Parade,’ the band stomps and sways as the frontman decries the ills of a modern world ruined by capitalism. It’s heavy stuff, executed with a wink and some serious 70s rock pomp. ‘Sicily’ gets even more out there, recalling the trippiest moments off ‘Rated R’ as the band builds off a skeletal bass line, adding hypnotic strings and sparse keys. It’s akin to being on the verge of having a bad trip with strange bedfellows. Depending on what kind of Queens material you like, this could be a grating or great thing. We’re in the former camp for sure.

Nine-minute closer ‘Straight Jacket Fitting’ proves the album’s most ambitious moment. It begins as a bluesy stoner number before switching to a poppier structure, building in intensity until breaking into a calming coda, all acoustic guitars and soft drones. It’s a song that the album has not only mined its title from but also summarizes the project as a whole. It’s dangerous yet reflective, frantic but focused. 
Much like 2013’s ‘Like Clockwork…’, this latest offering holds together brilliantly as one cohesive piece, both works released after traumatic periods in Homme’s life. Unlike the ‘Clockwork…’ however, what this album is missing, and our only real criticism, is a stone-cold banger. Singles’ Emotion Sickness’ and ‘Carnavoyeur’ are fine songs but lack the replayability of numbers such as ‘Smooth Sailing’ or ‘I Sat by the Ocean.’ Still, due to its mature songwriting and propulsive energy, this eighth album from these rock n’ roll survivors wins out over the likes of ‘Villains,’ ‘Era Vulgaris,’ and ‘Lullabies To Paralyze.’

With ‘In Times New Roman…’ Homme and co. have crafted a darkly seductive return, an intoxicating psychedelic record that drips with equal parts malice and renewal. It’s good to have them back.

7/10

Words: Sam Walker-Smart

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