QOTSA’s new album is the first in six years, but by all accounts it first began to gestate when their iconic frontman and mastermind Josh Homme almost bit the bullet on an operating table in 2010. After a long recovery the band got back together, throwing in oldies from 2002, Elton John and Trent Reznor for good measure. Together they summoned the minor key chords and a guitar licks which make this a recognizably QOTSA album. This time though it’s much more personal than the “scene” referencing corkscrews of Era Vulgaris and the post-modern radio rock of Songs For The Deaf. While retaining the clever phrasing of the slightly more psychological Crooked Vultures album, Like Clockwork has dropped the badass persona. This new album finds a more vulnerable Homme writing love and heartbreak songs without the usual distancing artiface. Each of the new songs is personal in the vein of Lullabies to Paralyze’s ‘I Never Came’, such as the affecting ‘Kalopsia’ which vacillates between delusion and rage in the name of self justification.
By my estimate, the word Love is used more in Like Clockwork than on any other album Homme has released, although forget expectations of giddy recollections as an undercurrent of misery tempers the entire album. Homme has often written about winning despite shit odds and shit outcomes (see “Misfit Love”), but now with songs like “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” and “Vampyre of Time and Memory” he’s exploring the ache of the loser. Just as in the animated media for Like Clockwork, the songs revolve around grisly fates and decay.
In keeping with a new muse, the usual wall of sound has diminished and the overall pace of most of the songs has slowed. However, QOTSA has not gone acoustic. Trademark precision and atypical tempos enrich Like Clockwork’s songs, for instance ‘I Had a Tail’ is a briskly paced funk machine that still finds QOTSA at the top of their game. Like Clockwork seems to pay particular attention to the way sound is used. In an attempt to distill their miserable sentiment a vast array of noises and effects have been employed to alter the spare guitars and its clearly produced yet varied tracks are probably the most deserving of the title “headphone music” in the QOTSA catalogue. Guitars are cleanly distorted then snap back, piano tinkles rain throughout, and Homme’s crooning falsetto is on display more than we’ve ever seen. Honestly, what springs to mind is that this album is pop music. Aurally and thematically, Like Clockwork is like a dark mirror of pop rock, love songs from the loser. If you’re here for more Songs for the Deaf you will probably have to take ‘My God is The Sun’ in a doggy bag and go home disappointed, but for those who can tolerate QOTSA going in a new direction the fractured psyche behind these songs is incredibly intriguing and the song writing is still top shelf. Be prepared for Like Clockwork to slink into the corners of your mind and get stuck there.