*** (out of four)
Queens of the Stone Age can be a difficult band to monitor. Not only has it been six long, side project-laden years since its last album ("Era Vulgaris"), but the revolving door nature of the group's lineup means that you may want to check Wikipedia to make sure you're on the same page as Josh Homme, the band's frontman and only permanent member. As hard rock has stagnated both creatively and commercially in the past decade, a marquee name like QOTSA feels almost like it exists as an excuse to bring together anyone who's interested in making this type of heavy music.
Thus, " ... Like Clockwork" includes contributions from QOTSA stringer Dave Grohl, erstwhile former member Nick Olivieri, the Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner and even Elton John. There's also the newest band member, who doesn't technically play an instrument: the visual artist Boneface. Hey, if that jumbled assortment is what it takes to put together a consistently solid album that sounds unmistakably like Queens of the Stone Age, as the band has done on its sixth album, that's great.
Such variety saves what could have been a project full of songs like boring opener “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” which is arguably too on-the-nose as the type of chugging, stretched-out rock that the band is known for, or lead single “My God is the Sun,” which sounds like a parody of overly dramatic hard rock lyricism and sterile guitars.
Instead, the album is best when flirting with glam rock bombast on “Kalopsia” and “Fairweather Friends,” limber funk on “Smooth Sailing” or the relatively upbeat rock of “I Sat By the Ocean.” Meandering, introspective songs like the title track and “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” may grate on those who don't enjoy Homme's perpetually anguished voice, but they also serve as the album's thesis statements and emotional cores.
Tinged with bursts of guitar bravado, the songs are made to disarm, with lyrics like, “to be vulnerable is needed most of all/if you intend to truly fall apart.” Brooding, simmering and grandiose, these moments leave little doubt about the band's identity.
In concert: Aug. 2 at Lollapalooza
Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic
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