Thursday, May 23, 2013

Preconceived Notions and Queens of the Stone Age's "...Like Clockwork"

… Like Clockwork, the first new album from Queens of the Stone Age in almost six years, certainly doesn’t live up to its title as far as its release goes.  After all, the band’s first nine years saw the release of five studio albums, including two or three classics depending on your point of view (Lullabies to Paralyze is my favorite, but I’ll give the ‘classics’ nod to Songs for the Deaf and Rated R as well).  Needless to say, fans have been waiting a good long while for this album, and I’m pretty sure it was worth it.  I say “pretty sure” because Josh Homme has never been one to follow a constant trail; he prefers to wander through the brush and find his own way to a record.  The results of this bushwhacking are a mixed bag on …Like Clockwork; the record alternates between some of the best and some of the most boring songs QotSA have ever put to record, and the end result is completely different from what anyone could have expected.  Which I can’t help but imagine is exactly what Homme and Co. wanted.


Where …Like Clockwork shines it’s absolutely brilliant; “I Appear Missing” might be the best song Homme’s ever written, and “My God is the Sun” and “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” are almost equally fantastic.  The biggest problem the album has is that even though it doesn’t really have any bad songs, there are a few songs that simply feel like cheap imitations of the best songs.  …Like Clockwork feels like an album that a band wanted to sound similar throughout, as though Queens of the Stone Age loved the idea of making a creepy, weird blues album so much that they stuck to it, results be damned.  Even that in itself isn’t a terrible idea, but by trying to fit an album into a specific sonic category, the album suffers from an overarching feeling of sameness, despite collaborations with performers ranging from the expected (Dave Grohl pops up on the skins for the first time since Songs for the Deaf) to the eye-poppingly surprising (Elton John?!?!).  This “sameness” is a huge departure from the all over the place, chaotically structured album pattern that backboned their classics, but I can’t help but feel that …Like Clockwork is a round peg in a round hole.  It’s not a bad album at all, and it’s actually quite good, but I can’t help but feel it would be a lot stronger if it just didn’t fit together so neatly.

I’m going to turn a bit off-course here (because you thought this was just a review, didn’t you!) and focus on that last part: In my dozen or so listens to …Like Clockwork over the past week, I’ve gone from initially disappointed, to slightly impressed, to feeling like it’s a great album by a band departing from their “sound.”  Yet here I am, finishing up a brief synopsis of the album by talking about some non-descript things it could do better.  So what gives?  I certainly don’t think of myself as someone opposed to bands changing their style of play (I mean, I loved Load.  Just kidding), or trying new things; Mastodon’s uber-progressive turn on Crack the Skye produced one of my all-time favorite records, and I greatly enjoyed Heritage even though it was about as different from Blackwater Park as it could be.  No, I think the devil at play here is that great winged beast of expectations and preconceived notions.

It’s hard, quite possibly impossible, to approach an album by an established band with which you are familiar with any type of complete objectivity.  There are always opinions to be had, always thoughts about what things this band does well and perhaps not so well, swimming around in your brain.  Sometimes these opinions help; if you know that what you’re probably getting from a band isn’t your cup o’joe, then you can stay away and spend your time listening to something you like.  Other times they can be a hindrance, like in my aforementioned …Like Clockwork experience.  When listening to a new album, a balance has to be struck between what you think you’re going to hear, what you wanted to hear, and – most importantly – what you’re actually hearing.

…Like Clockwork is a dark, fun, eccentric, bluesy-rock record made with purpose and resolve.  There are some weaker tracks, but the strongest songs on the record easily make up for these.  It’s a worthy addition to Queens of the Stone Age’s discography, and probably one of the more surprising releases of the year thus far.  It’s easy to oversaddle an upcoming album with your expectations, especially when it’s from a band that’s been putting out music for over a decade, but you never know: eliminating those expectations and preconceived notions could turn out to showcase something you never expected and end up thoroughly enjoying.

- Durf

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