You can’t encapsulate the past year in rock without spending at least a little ink on the latest rash of comebacks. Warhorses ranging from Black Sabbath and Fleetwood Mac to Nine Inch Nails and Black Flag all rumbled back to active duty in 2013, with new music in tow. Among those headline-grabbing behemoths, Queens of the Stone Age have been easy to overlook—even more so because the band’s recent …Like Clockwork
, its first new LP since ’07, is such a determinedly understated specimen.
As recently as his 2009 Them Crooked Vultures jaunt with John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl, QOTSA mastermind Josh Homme proved that he knows how to bring the bombast. On …Like Clockwork
, though, he slows the tempos and widens the dynamic range, clearing the way for the craftiest, most emotionally resonant set of songs he’s ever written. For every classic Queens cruiser like “I Sat by the Ocean” or “My God Is the Sun,” there’s a torchy ballad—“The Vampyre of Time and Memory,” the title track—that finds Homme trading his signature slyness for unguarded introspection.
This is a downbeat record, but it’s too weird to be maudlin.
Album highlight “Fairweather Friends,” a boldly theatrical bit of ELO-ish prog-gone-pop abetted by piano and vox from Sir Elton himself, sums up the perils of underestimating Homme’s gifts. The Queens may never qualify as a household name, but their microbrewed approach to big-room rock continues to epitomize an alternative that actually merits the designation.
Queens of the Stone Age play Barclays Center Saturday, December 15.