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Last June, we published a feature called the Top 20 Albums We’ve Been Waiting For Forever, counting down a bunch of our favorite artists from whom a new full-length was: (A) long overdue; and (B) not totally unrealistic. Coming in at No. 19 on that list was Queens Of The Stone Age. As we wrote in that space:

With trainwreck Nick Oliveri a distant memory and Kyuss Lives touring regularly, we know the new QOTSA has to be near. Josh Homme has said the band’s sixth record would be finished this year, but the clock is still ticking. Maybe he’s trying to get Mark Lanegan and Dave Grohl back on board?

At that point, it had been almost five years to the day since the release of QOTSA’s last LP, 2007′s Era Vulgaris, but it would still be another two months till the band actually stepped into the studio to begin work on LP6. During the recording process — which continued till this past March — Homme would indeed get erstwhile Queens Lanegan and Grohl back on board … and, um, Oliveri, too, along with another former bassist, Alain Johannes. Also participating was Homme’s wife, Brody Dalle (of the Distillers and Spinnerette). And Trent Reznor. And Jake Shears (of Scissor Sisters). And Alex Turner (of Arctic Monkeys). And James Lavelle (of UNKLE). And Sir Elton John.

Every Queens record comes with a deep roster of all-star contributors, of course; the very first incarnation of the band — pre-dating their 1998 self-titled debut LP — featured Homme alongside Matt Cameron (of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam), Van Conner (of Screaming Trees), and John McBain (of Monster Magnet). To some extent, though, that approach has come to feel more like stunt-casting than collaboration. What exactly did Julian Casablancas, for instance, bring to Era Vulgaris’s lead single “Sick, Sick, Sick”? Was there any additional value gained from Jack Black, in particular, providing “handclaps and stomps” to “Burn The Witch,” the third single released from 2005′s Lullabies To Paralyze?

To be clear, I’m not accusing Homme of, like, social climbing or something. As far as I can tell, he’s just a popular guy and a prolific artist, and he happens to pal around with high-profile celebrities, and that often results in music being made. (That’s how he wound up doing the theme song for Anthony Bourdain’s new series, for example.) But it’s created a bit of an identity crisis for Queens Of The Stone Age. The QOTSA contributors wiki is a lengthy and confusing document that offers little insight into the band’s chemical makeup or division of labor. For the five best years of the band’s existence (their five best musical years, at least), it seemed the thing we were talking about when we talked about Queens Of The Stone Age was the Homme-Oliveri fulcrum, but when Homme fired Oliveri in 2004 — and followed that with QOTSA’s excellent 2005 LP Lullabies To Paralyze (and then the very good Era Vulgaris in ’07) — the picture became a bit cloudier. Queens Of The Stone Age albums, it seemed, had more in common with, say, DJ Khaled or Timbaland albums — in which the titular star was equal parts performer, organizer, and composer, aided by a rotating cast of curated supporting players — than they did with albums by other rock bands, especially other rock bands in QOTSA’s rarefied stratum.

But here’s the thing: On QOTSA’s very best album, 2002′s Songs For The Deaf, the contributions of the players other than Homme are easy to pinpoint, if not quantify. Grohl, for instance, plays drums on all but two (of 15) SFTD tracks, and his work on that album is nothing short of revelatory; he raises Homme’s game in much the same way he raised Kurt Cobain’s on Nevermind. Lanegan, who had contributed one lead vocal track to 2000′s Rated R, delivers four on SFTD (one of which he shares with Homme). Oliveri, meanwhile, who had joined the band in earnest for Rated R (on which he offered lead vocals on three tracks), takes the lead on four SFTD songs. Way back in 2000, Homme was quoted as saying of Queens, “It really is more of a musical experiment … It keeps moving and reinventing itself.” Songs For The Deaf is the apotheosis of this statement. Homme is the conductor and visionary, but the album feels as diverse as the animal kingdom, as deep as the earth’s inner core.

Since Songs For The Deaf, QOTSA albums have grown fatter with A-list guest appearances, but relied increasingly on Homme’s voice as the central element. After SFTD, Oliveri was dismissed, and Lanegan and Grohl were no longer able to participate as full-time members, which gave Lullabies To Paralyze a decidedly more homogeneous feel than its predecessor. New drummer Joey Castillo was a fine addition, but Grohl is one of the five best drummers in the history of rock music, one of the few whose playing can achieve a frontman-level presence. Lanegan still delivered lead vocals on two songs (and additional vocals on two more), but Homme was front-and-center for the remaining 12 cuts. On Era Vulgaris, Lanegan was little more than a ghost, delivering harmony vocals on one track, with Homme taking lead for the entirety of the album. Perhaps not coincidentally, QOTSA’s albums have steadily shrunk since SFTD: That LP offered 15 songs (more like 17 with the hidden tracks and digressions), and clocked in at 63:36; Lullabies To Paralyze was 14 songs, 59:26; Era Vulgaris came in at 11 songs, 47:53.

The new one, …Like Clockwork, is 10 songs, 45:59, and while Homme shares the mic with many of guests mentioned above, he’s the lead vocalist on all 10 tracks. Not coincidentally, Clockwork is much closer in tone to Era Vulgaris than it is Songs For The Deaf. That’s dispiriting not because Era Vulgaris is merely a very good album while Songs For The Deaf is a modern classic, but because of the names involved — not Elton John or Trent Reznor (or Alex Turner, Jake Shears, et al.), but specifically Grohl, Lanegan, and Oliveri. …Like Clockwork reunites the band behind Songs For The Deaf, but it’s a reunion in name only: Lanegan appears on just one track, the cheekily titled “Fairweather Friends,” which also features John, Reznor, and Oliveri. For his part, Oliveri gets a vocal credit on two tracks: “Fairweather Friends” and “If I Had A Tail,” which also features Turner and Dalle. As you might expect, none of these singers distinguish themselves in the mix. If any of these guests had demanded compensation commensurate with their name value, QOTSA’s new label, Matador, would have surely demurred, suggesting to Homme that he find a session musician instead to deliver a similar performance (or simply assign that part to any other fulltime QOTSA member: guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, keyboardist Dean Fertita, or bassist Michael Shuman). It would have been a smart cost-cutting measure on the label’s part, and it would not have changed the songs one bit. Even when the guest vocalists are given something resembling a spotlight — such as Reznor on “Kalopsia” — the performance seems at best unnecessary, and at worst, kind of pandering.

The key re-addition, then, is Grohl, who sits behind the kit for six of the 10 songs here, some of which are absolute highlights: “If I Had A Tail” has a leanness and swagger which emphasizes (and is emphasized by) Grohl’s explosive playing. First single “My God Is The Sun” juxtaposes Homme’s metronomic guitar precision onto Grohl’s amphetamine-energy blasting and beating, and matches them both with a sultry Homme vocal, to monstrous effect. At six minutes, “I Appear Missing” is the album’s longest track, and Grohl’s incredible percussion work is on central display throughout, as the song crests to pretty epic heights. But then there’s “The Vampyre Of Time And Memory,” which asks little of the drummer, and mostly wastes him. And it’s still a pretty good song! It just didn’t need Dave Grohl to be a pretty good song.

That’s the essential problem with …Like Clockwork, in fact, and it’s one I’m personally finding hard to overlook. Homme is a very good singer, songwriter, and guitarist, and he’s developed a signature sound that remains enjoyable and can still be quite intoxicating. But his finest work allowed him to recede into the background at points, to focus on the details, while other collaborators were allowed to step to the forefront. …Like Clockwork reduces those collaborators to guests, and throws them into the mix with more guests, and more famous guests, and then even more guests, still, which comes to feel like unjustified excess, putting too much expectation and weight on songs that are, as per usual for Homme, essentially pretty good and occasionally very good. But “very good” isn’t good enough for a roster of this magnitude, a roster with this kind of history behind it, and …Like Clockwork isn’t “very good” consistently enough to merit a final score even that high. For some reason, band and label decided to offer no fewer than six songs from …Like Clockwork in different forms (live performances, in-studio radio performances, videos) prior to its release, so that by the time fans of the band get their hands on a copy (or even a leak) of the album, they could’ve conceivably heard more than half of it already. That seems a dubious proposition in the best of circumstances, but especially so in the case of …Like Clockwork, which is decidedly thin in comparison to the albums that made QOTSA famous, not to mention too light to justify such a bombastic promotional campaign. …Like Clockwork may remove QOTSA from our list of Albums We’ve Been Waiting For Forever, but for the first time, I’m now waiting for QOTSA to come back with something better.

…Like Clockwork is out 6/3 via Matador.

Comments (62)
  1. I haven’t heard the album yet, but that’s an interesting point you bring up about the guests on the album. You have to wonder what the point is in bringing these guys in if you’re not going to use them to their strengths. It almost sounds like Queens of the Stone Age has become more of a one-man project a la NIN rather than the band it once was.

    Another note, in regards to fans hearing 6 out of the 10 songs already: I believe this album (as well as a few others of note) was marketed very poorly. Marketing is a huge part in an album’s release, and I think QOTSA let this one get away from them. If you have too many appetizers, you’re not going to have enough room for the meal.

  2. It sounds like you really, really wanted to enjoy this album but simply couldn’t because it’s just inundated with too many collaborators that just don’t offer enough to make it worth the “A-listing” the album creates.

    Damn shame. I’m holding out for a first listen but this doesn’t bode well as far as first impressions go.

  3. I’ve had this album on repeat since it leaked, and I’m a devout proselytizer of SFTD’s genius, and I think Era Vulgaris was pretty weak. But I think …Like Clockwork is pretty fantastic. You didn’t even mention the weird doo-wop influences! “Kalopsia” basically turns its title into the shee-bop-shee-bops from “I Only Have Eyes For You”, for crying out loud.

    And, like, okay, the album isn’t SFTD (nothing ever will be), but this read more like a Deconstructing: QOTSA than it does an evaluation of an album. And it works as that sort of deconstruction, but it gives short shrift to the music at hand. Who cares if Elton John’s name is on the liner notes? Homme has always (from what I’ve gathered) looked at the outfit as a group of interchangeable parts. It’s totally valid to criticize that, especially when it results in something mechanical like Era Vulgaris (that was a going-through-the-motions album if there ever was one). The songs here show Homme in a much more emotive light, and some of the melodies are gorgeous (the soft parts of Kalopsia come to mind). I’m a little disappointed that those aspects were glossed over.

    I largely agree with the points made about *why* SFTD worked so well, and I think that was the one album that felt like the work of a collective, with Homme as leader or something. But I think it’s unfair (and pointless) to wish for a similar set-up now, especially considering that we’re ten years past SFTD. …Like Clockwork feels, to my ears anyway, like a meticulously organized album, and if Grohl played drums on a track that didn’t require him to beat the shit out of the kit, so what? There’s a lot of subtlety here, at least as far as this band is concerned, and the players are used in subtle ways. I’m fine with that.

    • My opinion of Era Vulgaris is higher than yours, and even so I’d essentially agree that …Like Clockwork is better than Era Vulgaris, but to me those are without question the two worst albums in QOTSA’s catalog (and they’re still better than most band’s best albums!). As far as our internal categorization goes: it’s important to remember that a Premature Evaluation really is just that; I have no doubt that my feelings on the record will evolve over time. But irrespective of your own ability to put aside such factors, the buildup to this album has been anything but subtle, and the early response (the “premature” response, if you will) is not one that’s been trained to expect subtlety. Why employ Sir Fucking Elton John if the BEST possible reaction is going to be, “Who cares if Elton John’s name is on the liner notes”? Why reunite the team behind SFTD only to have them sing pointless backing vocals on 1-2 tracks? Honestly, it’s a really good record; and I was expecting more.

      • Im with you 100% on the whole back vocal shit. Seriously, why bother having Nick Olivieri on the record if you wont have him do anything noticeable.

      • Good points. Era Vulgaris, I listen to maybe 4 or 5 of the songs, and effectively ignore the entire back half (after 3s and 7s). And the 4 or 5 that I liked initially are the same 4 or 5 that I like now. (I’m waiting for the rest to click, but it just hasn’t happened yet.) My immediate reaction to …Like Clockwork has been, “Hey, I like all of these songs!” I guess because of that I’m less bothered by the liner notes and the build-up to the album, though I can understand how it might seem off putting, or even pointless, or–worst of all–like self-serving (and ultimately empty) hype.

        Part of my reaction/enjoyment might also be due to the fact that I wasn’t necessarily expecting to enjoy it as much as I am, so there’s that.

        Also: I do think an expansion of/tangent from this article would make a pretty killer entry to the Deconstructing section. An article about “collectives” and how the different members are used, and how collectives can change when one guy takes over, etc. Queens doesn’t exactly fit the “collective” bill, since it has always been Homme’s brainchild, but I think it would be interesting to compare SFTD era QOTSA with something like, say, Broken Social Scene.

      • I liked Era Vulgaris plenty, and more than Lullabies…, which I liked well enough but feel is a bit flacid in parts. I understand the decision to do it, but I always thought it was a bit of a shame the live album/dvd came from that tour.

        Haven’t heard the new album yet, just a couple of the songs, but I’m still looking forward to it, hoping for the best, because I’ve really been waiting for it.

  4. Nah, it’s an awesome album.

    The album’s core trio of If I Had A Tail, My God Is The Sun, and Kalopsia is incredibly strong, even by QOTSA’s lofty “Millionaire —> No One Knows —> First It Giveth” standards.

    It’s an assured, focused effort, and I dig it. When a band has been around as long as QOTSA, I think it can be hard to find the line between “Owning every fucking moment on their latest record” and “Resting on their laurels.” Whereas “Era Vulgaris” was undoubtedly the latter, I think “…Like Clockwork” is triumphantly the former.

    • One of the best things that my friends and I have come to realize is that we all disagree on favorite songs. Mine are Vampyre, Missing and the title track. It seems like everyone has different favorites, which might hint at a solid album through and through.

  5. Haven’t heard the whole album yet, but “If I Had A Tail” is absolute KILLER. That jam alone is enough to convince me to give this album some time.

  6. The only interesting thing here is who the author believes are the other 4 greatest drummers in the history of rock. That statement is made with great confidence and no hyperlink. Don’t disagree, just curious.

  7. After listening to the album about 20 times I feel its safe to say its one of their best albums, and every single track on it is great. Theres not a song i’d skip on this. Its meticulous, dark, weird, and grandiose. Absolutely killer album.

    This just sounds like you whining about the guest list. Just listen to the fucking music.

  8. I feel R doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Moreso than Deaf it clearly shows the contributions of the cast. It’s leaner than Deaf but it’s very powerful. I suppose Deaf has more pop friendly sounds to it and was what got the band noticed.

    I’ll say this about Clockwork. It’s good. I like it. It’s better than Era Vulgaris, but probably on par with Lullabies, maybe an eyelash below. But I’m glad the band has somewhat rebounded after Vulgaris, so this is definitely a step in the right direction, even if the collaborators are there in name only it seems.

    • Definitely, it’s all about R.

      • Rated R is number one for me too, actually in my top 3 albums ever. The new album is solid, some really good songs. The only absolute masterpiece on it in my opinion though is ‘I appear missing’, which is just sublime. I really do miss the Homme, Oliveri, Lanegan dynamic though. I find Homme singing every song a bit boring, over an album and live. It was like vocally there was three sides to Queens, Oliveri’s aggression, the dark grit of Lanegan and the sultriness of Josh. It worked perfectly, take two of them out of the equation and it’s still very good, but not truly great.

  9. At least Era Vulgaris had “Turnin’ On The Screw.” Now that’s a sexy song.

  10. The real question is, what does Kanye think about it?

  11. I think this album is better than Songs For The Deaf and I find it strange that you focused on contributing artists.

  12. You’re trolling with that stuff about Grohl being one of the five best drummers in rock history, right? He’s good, yeah, he keeps time well, but he’s kind of monodynamic, and he doesn’t exactly swing. He has very little soul, as a drummer, and a very limited range.

    And he’s never been any of the “drummers whose playing can achieve a frontman-level presence”. That’s a short, short list. Arguably Budgie, definitely Moon and Bonham and Peart (you may not like him, but if what he does isn’t “frontman-level presence”, nothing any drummer ever did ever was — and Grohl’s a huge Rush fan btw). Then… let’s see… drawing a blank here. That’s about it.

    But greater drummers than Grohl? Watts, Moon, Bonham, Peart, Budgie, Paul Thompson, Martin Chambers, Bruford, Orestes Morfin,. Jim Sclavunos, Nick Simms from Cornershop, SCOTTY FUCKING ASHETON, Nicky Headon, Eddie Kalwa, Andy Newmark, Tom Bazylak, at least half a dozen others that don’t spring to mind right now.

    All of them are more musical, more interesting, funkier, and have more personality than Grohl. NEIL PEART is funkier than Grohl.

    I doubt Grohl would disagree with much of that list either, if any. The guy’s not an idiot.

    • Brandon, I don’t have a ranking system or even a list that I meticulously update, but by and large, when I think of my favorite rock drummers, rolling them out in (basically) chronological order, it goes: Moon, Mitch Mitchell, Bonham, Peart, Dave Lombardo, Brendan Canty (Fugazi), Sean Reinert (Death, Cynic), Grohl, Jimmy Chamberlain, Jef Whitehead (who plays in lots of band but specifically his playing on the last three or so Leviathan records), Erik Wunder (Cobalt). That’s off the top of my head, and I’m obviously missing plenty, but those are the ones I’ve sort of filed away as my Platonic ideals.

      Now, I want to point out that by and large I find the Dave Grohl brand and persona to be irritating verging on repulsive. As a songwriter and frontman, he’s bland to the point of being invisible. Here’s what makes the case for Grohl, the drummer, though: There’s lots of actual before-and-after evidence to support the notion that he both elevates and transforms the musicians and songs he’s working with. Nirvana before Grohl was a fairly standard grunge act with obvious melodic potential; Nirvana with Grohl released two of the best albums of the last 30 years, and I’d argue Nevermind belongs in the conversation with anything in the history of rock music. QOTSA without Grohl has released some excellent and compelling music, but SFTD is the pinnacle of their career and a legit classic. Alternately, Foo Fighters absolutely fell off a cliff after The Colour And The Shape, which was the last FF albums on which Grohl was behind the kit. None of this is coincidental, and each of the aforementioned Grohl-assisted records features drum work that absolutely reaches frontman-level presence, IMO.

    • This is like who’s the best guitarist argument, I think Grohl is one of the best when it comes to adding to the song from the drums, write a song from the drums, not just filling, that’s what he done in SFTD and on this record, and he’s brilliant at it, there are very few drummers that are good at that, Moon, Ginger Baker, Bonham, Ulrich, Wilk (there’s a reason why Sabbath picked him), comes to mind

      of course Grohl is not Peart of Portnoy, or Lombardo, but I rather listen to him anytime

    • The drum lines Grohl threw together for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “In Bloom” are just as memorable as the riffs, and honestly, they’re what make the songs work. If you’ve ever heard a shitty cover of either of those songs, one of the key problems is likely that the drummer just isn’t doing it right. Grohl really has an ear for what can make a song better (drum-wise, at least), and even if he’s not the most technically proficient (although he’s no slouch, I’d argue), that’s a huge asset, and something pretty rare.

  13. This evaluation would be spot-on… if it weren’t wrong, ’cause the album is FUCKING FANTASTIC.

  14. Like Clockwork is nothing short of a classic. Every song offers something different and evokes a different set of emotions. The venomous guitar licks intertwined through Keep Your Eyes Peeled are that of waking up from a nightmare into another nightmare. If I had a Tail is like a monster-mash dance party hosted by the Rolling Stones on acid. Kalopsia has some of the best lyric trading since Passenger by Deftones. Smooth Sailing is the kind of weird and funk My Morning Jacket and Jim James can only dream of peaking with and are we sure Tom Morrello wasn’t playing on I Appear Missing? Least I not forget the other 5 songs on the album—all fantastic.

  15. Josh Homme is my hometown hero (he grew up where I live now), so naturally I’m gonna give him props. ….Like Clockworks shows, once again, that Josh is an excellent songwriter and musician. However, I feel like, at time, that his songwriting doesn’t necessarily mesh with his musicianship. This isn’t so say that ….Like Clockwork isn’t great. I just have to tell myself that …Like Clockwork isn’t SFTD and it’s 2013. There are definite gems on this album; Kalopsia comes to mind as the standout track (plus, I’m a big T-Rez fan). Maybe I need to listen to the album more before I start to nit pick and dissect even further.

    On a side note, I saw Nick Oliveri at a Del Taco last December. I should’ve asked him what’s up.

  16. I can not stop listening to.

  17. Unfortunately I have to agree with most of what this article says. At least it’s an honest review. There are several delusional one’s floating around the web. Personally, I’ve always been more of a fan of the first 2 albums than SFTD. It definitely had it’s moments, but I think the self-titled and “Rated R’ were more focused. Regardless, I even like “Lullabies…” and “Era Vulgaris”, but this new album has barely anything worthy of Josh’s talent. The one song that stood out to me was the polarizing track “Smooth Sailing”. That was pretty much it. I think the fact that they’re on Matador maybe took some of the pressure off on coming up with something more commercial. I also wonder if Chris Goss was involved. Things usually go much better when he is mentoring. Oh well. Hopefully the tour will be great.

  18. Premature evaluation?, how about prejudged evaluation, what a load of BS, so the ratio of guests on the center of attention determs a good album??, what a joke

    This is one of a few examples of rock bands expanding and growing stylistically and in songwriting skills, a brave decision of Homme, from which I expected nothing less, the album is a complete winner IMO, but there’s still obtuse writes that will whine about how this is not “Songs For The Dead Part II”

    ..how easy is to write for a music blog

  19. I guess this doesn’t leave much room for a “Counting Down: QOTSA albums from worst to best”

  20. This evaluation manages to overemphasize the collaborators while not even mentioning the Desert Sessions.

    The Desert Sessions was the lab with collaborators, QotSA was what percolated at the top. I think it’s impressive that Homme has ditched the lab entirely and now relies solely on his vision and his songs. Since even Era Vulgaris featured a Desert Sessions leftover (Make It Wit Chu), you could say this is the first album that’s purely about Josh Homme and the musicians he has selected. It is a fantastic achievement if only for Homme’s new level of confidence in his own writing. He had never written anything remotely as emotionally raw as The Vampyre of Time and Memory. The fucker’s been constantly getting better since the very first Kyuss album in 1991 and he’s still improving at 40.

  21. Glad i read the comments and not just the pre-evalutaion. Gotta luv da community here.

  22. Michael, I agree with a lot of what you wrote, but I’m kind of surprised you didn’t really note that the first (official) album—which a lot of fans (or at least this one) feel is the best QOTSA record—is basically just Josh Homme and Alfredo Hernandez (also my vote for best QOTSA drummer). WIthout Google cheating, I believe that Josh handled nearly all guitar and bass parts for that album.

    • I love the first QOTSA album; it’d be at No. 3 on my own list after SFTD and R, and on any given day I’m more apt to listen to that record than any other in the band’s discography. And I can confirm — via Google cheating — that you’ve got the configuration exactly right. I should’ve mentioned all that, agreed, just as I should’ve mentioned the Desert Sessions, as Cecil points out above. The debut LP, though, is truly anomalous, to the extent that I would’ve needed another hundred or so words just to properly contextualize it (insofar as it was a transition out of Kyuss, etc.), and this thing was running long anyway. On some level it presents an interesting parallel to Clockwork, in that both are probably closer to Homme solo albums than anything else he’s ever done, but Clockwork is the most guest-bloated disc in his catalog while s/t is the leanest. That would’ve been another angle to consider! Ah well. Maybe another critic will explore it.

      • That sounds about right. The first album is definitely my favorite, but the R (are we not calling it “Rated R” anymore?) and SFTD line-ups were the most aesthetically pleasing + pummeling live. It was great when Mark Lanegan would sort of saunter on stage with a cigarette in hand to handle vocals for three or four songs, then stagger off into the night. While Josh is a solid singer, I feel his vocals work better as part of a collective effort and / or complementary instrument. Mexicola might be my favorite QOTSA song, but I have no idea what the lyrics are. “Setting suuuunnnn….. something something.’ As his vocals have moved to the forefront (both in the mix and as the focus of the song), Queens has transitioned from stoner rock to druggy lounge act.
        Still, even though I don’t really care for this new album, it is kind of impressive that the band (read: Josh) has never made the same album twice. If you really like SFTD, you can always listen to it again—or any of the similar sounding QOTSA side projects that were released around that period. I’ve been meaning to back and re-listen to that first (only?) Mondo Generator album.

  23. Hey Michael Nelson, so where’s the review of the music? Ya know, the actual album?

    You’re really just criticizing the marketing of the album. Sure, Matador publicized the “guests” in their various press releases. As intended, this got the QOTSA fan-base, and you, all frothed up. But was anybody really on the fence and thought “oh shit, Elton John is on this album. I’m gonna buy!” Doubt that.

    Ask yourself this. . . .If you had no idea who recorded (or apparently recorded) on this album, would your opinion of it still be the same? Doubt that too.

    Sorry the album seems to have disappointed you, but get over it! QOTSA in 2013 is not QOTSA from 2002. Enjoy the album for what it is: the best QOTSA album since Songs For The Deaf, and it certainly gives R a run for its money.

    Next time try to review the music and not focus on non-issues.

    (Incidentally, R was 42 minutes long, so there goes your theory about album length and quality)

    • I think we more or less agree, wg, except that you (fairly) take exception with the critical substance of my review. You’re kind of emphasizing my points, though:

      Ask yourself this. . . .If you had no idea who recorded (or apparently recorded) on this album, would your opinion of it still be the same?

      No! If I’d never been told that Nick Oliveri and Mark Lanegan were returning to the fold, I would not have expected substantive contributions from Nick Oliveri and Mark Lanegan, whose past contributions were directly related to my love of past QOTSA records. I was kinda bummed, though, knowing that they did return to the fold, only to be buried into utter invisibility. My general assessment of the album — “good not great” — would likely be the same, though, yes. My review, however, might have said something to the extent of, “Bring back Oliveri and Lanegan!”

      QOTSA in 2013 is not QOTSA from 2002.

      Exactly! So why reunite the beloved QOTSA 2002 lineup only to present a product that has absolutely nothing to do with QOTSA 2002?

      Honestly, contributors aside, I don’t think this is a great record. I think QOTSA has made three, maybe four, great records (Lullabies may fall a notch short of “great”), and two really good records. This is IMO a really good record. No shame in making a really good record! But we’re talking about a dude who’s capable of greatness. That said, there are plenty of people in this thread who DO think it’s a great record, and frankly, this makes me really happy for Josh Homme and Matador — two entities for which I have A LOT of love.

      • “Exactly! So why reunite the beloved QOTSA 2002 lineup only to present a product that has absolutely nothing to do with QOTSA 2002?”

        Josh has stated that this was a difficult album to make, it took +-6 years, I don’t know the internal writing process work, don’t know if you know it, but I imagine that Homme feeds himself from every collaboration he can get, he was able to reunite the SFTD line up but I think the last thing in his mind was “finally I can go back to 2002″

        From the first snipets I kind of expected the album that we got, at first I noticed the lack of guitar riffs, which kind of worried me, then I listened “keep your eyes peeled” and it confirmed me that (with that song as an opener) this album wasn’t like any other QOTSA record, but to me may be among the best, as i’ve said before it works as a whole, a rare thing these days, and Homme writing skills are at his best, a step forward no doubt

      • First, thanks Michael for responding. Not often you can get a response from or have a discussion with a critic on a fancy-schmancy music site like Stereogum. ;)

        Anyway, are you insinuating that Josh Homme intentionally brought these guys back to recreate something? To get back some kind of mojo from 2002? To fool the fans?

        I don’t think so. Let’s examine the evidence:

        1) Homme is actually friends with, and has worked with many of these “guests” before. He’s stated in interviews that when friends swing by his studio for whatever reason, they’re welcome to drop a vocal, a handclap, a guitar lick, a drum break etc. on a track. He obviously bonds with people musically. Why not put that stuff on the album? That’s what Desert Sessions was all about. The same “spirit” applies here, even if the “guests” aren’t quite as pronounced this time (or the last two times for that matter, lest we forget).

        2) Elton John called Josh up and asked to be on the album. Why pass that up? I can hear him pretty clearly on piano and backing vocals on Fairweather Friends, can’t you?

        3) Joey Castillo got booted from the band. We don’t know why, but they needed a new drummer to fill in. Who better to call than Dave Grohl? After-all he and Josh did a whole album together just a few years ago (TCV). Dave probably couldn’t stay long and he certainly couldn’t tour so they gave Jon Theodore a call. Mars Volta just broke up, so he was free.

        4) Josh said in an interview that he and Nick are still buddies and Nick came by the studio to drop off or pick up some records (I forget which) and Josh asked him to sing into the mic. No big deal.

        Josh Homme never promised us anything. Never said, “hey fans, we’re gettin’ the old crew back together!” or anything like that. I think your real gripe, as you mentioned, is with the marketing. You don’t think Matador is gonna scream and shout about all the collaborations and say “Nick and Grohl are back!” etc. It’s Matador’s job to sell us this album in any way shape or form they can. It’s not like music (rock music especially) is flying off the fucking shelves these days.

        I get that you don’t dig the new album, and that’s fine, but as a music critic you have to at least acknowledge that this album is very different from any previous QOTSA album. The piano, the ballads, the layers, the tempo changes, Josh’s vocal range, Mikey Shuman really stepping up on bass, and Dean Fertita on keys and effects.

        If anything Josh Homme really stepped back on this one and let a lot of the other musical elements shine (the bass, the keys, the effects etc.) ahead of his riffs and solos. Despite keeping his vocals front and center, I think this album shows a great creative and stylistic leap forward. You have to admit that at least.

        • Totally my pleasure, wg — I only hope my responses to a few commenters deal with the questions/issues raised by everyone else, in some capacity.

          Look, I kinda feel like the goalposts are being moved (by me and you guys) with every new exchange, so I’m gonna address your points one by one, as concisely as possible (for me) and then devote my attention to the growing pile of new work on my desk. I’ll check in again, but if I don’t reply at length (or at all), rest assured it’s not because I’m not interested in hearing from you guys. This has been a fun convo and it has added countless insights to the review posted above.

          are you insinuating that Josh Homme intentionally brought these guys back to recreate something? To get back some kind of mojo from 2002? To fool the fans?

          “Re-create” is a pejorative term, and I wouldn’t presume to know exactly what he hoped to get from those collabs. By no means do I feel like he was trying to find old mojo and I DEFINITELY don’t think he was trying fool his fans — I really hope that didn’t come across in anything I said.

          1) Homme is actually friends with, and has worked with many of these “guests” before. He’s stated in interviews that when friends swing by his studio for whatever reason, they’re welcome to drop a vocal, a handclap, a guitar lick, a drum break etc. on a track. He obviously bonds with people musically. Why not put that stuff on the album?

          Totally agree, especially if the best take is the one with Jack Black doing handclaps or whatever. That said — and this is on me, not him — when I see (for example) Julian Casablancas’s name in the liner notes, but I can’t hear him in the song, it takes me out of the moment to some extent: because I’m listening for Julian Casablancas, and wondering where he is, and if/when he’s going to appear, and I’m not fully appreciating the song. Again, that’s totally on me — and to be clear, I don’t listen to QOTSA to hear Julian Casablancas! I don’t feel, like, ripped off or anything. I’m just a little disconnected from the whole of the song because I’m examining it for specific personnel-based details that aren’t (necessarily) going to reveal themselves.

          2) Elton John called Josh up and asked to be on the album. Why pass that up? I can hear him pretty clearly on piano and backing vocals on Fairweather Friends, can’t you?

          The Elton John thing (as it pertains to my review) is getting blown out of proportion — I don’t care about Elton John. Frankly, I kinda think Elton John is a total interloper. He’s spent the last decade and a half glomming onto everyone from Eminem to Ryan Adams to Lady Gaga. In 2006 he told Rolling Stone he was going to do a hip-hop album, saying, “I want to work with Pharrell, Timbaland, Snoop, Kanye, Eminem and just see what happens.” It doesn’t surprise me at all that Elton John called up Josh Homme and asked to be on the record. However, I think his contribution is negligible and, yeah, a little distracting. It grosses me out a little bit. You guys like it? We’ll have to agree to disagree.

          3) Joey Castillo got booted from the band. We don’t know why, but they needed a new drummer to fill in. Who better to call than Dave Grohl?

          Literally NO ONE. And Grohl does a great job on the album! He’s a fucking incredible drummer! The best moments on the album — as I mention in my review — feature Dave Grohl on drums. If I downplayed Grohl’s contributions, I apologize. If anything, I would have liked to hear him on all 10 tracks.

          4) Josh said in an interview that he and Nick are still buddies and Nick came by the studio to drop off or pick up some records (I forget which) and Josh asked him to sing into the mic. No big deal.

          Right, this is like the Julian Casablancas thing I mentioned above, but it’s a bit more frustrating. Josh Homme is free to employ any musicians he sees fit, and in any capacity he sees fit. But the combination of Homme and Oliveri (and Lanegan) has resulted in QOTSA’s best-ever music (IMO). So when I see Oliveri and Lanegan’s names in the liner notes, I get really excited! And when they’re buried in the sing-along mix, I get frustrated. It takes me out of the moment. It makes me think about how much more I like Homme’s voice when it plays against the voices of those guys. I’ve been listening to Mark Lanegan since the Screaming Trees’ record Uncle Anesthesia. I’ve listened to every single project he’s ever done. Dude will work with anyone. Mad Season? Sure. Isobel Campbell? Sign him up. Greg Dulli? Perfect. UNKLE? Just tell him the time and place and he’ll be there. But Lanegan is NEVER BETTER than when he’s singing over Josh Homme’s guitars. Have you heard the Homme-Lanegan theme song for the new Bourdain show? I wrote about it; it’s great. I like it as much if not more than anything on the new QOTSA record, frankly, for what it is. As I wrote in that space, back in April, before hearing a note of the new QOTSA record: “[O]f all Homme’s many collaborators, I don’t think any does more to raise the material than Lanegan (and vice-versa: Lanegan’s vocals rarely hit harder than they do in QOTSA’s songs).” If I’d never known Oliveri or Lanegan was going to be on the new QOTSA record, I would not have been disappointed by their relative absence. But man, this is a band with history! You can’t just remove everything from historical context! I don’t think Homme’s voice carries an album from start to finish as well as the Homme-Lanegan-Oliveri triad does. At the end of the day, that’s part of why I think Era Vulgaris and …Like Clockwork are really-good-but-not-great records: because Homme’s voice wears on me over an extended period, and this has grown more egregious as he’s gotten older (and as I’ve gotten older). This, coupled with the fact that Oliveri and Lanegan were there to contribute in some capacity, affects my feelings about the record.

          Josh Homme never promised us anything. Never said, “hey fans, we’re gettin’ the old crew back together!” or anything like that.

          Nah, but he did say during the recording process, “The robots are back!” And including Oliveri, Lanegan, and Grohl is ALMOST implicitly saying something to that effect. Again, this is a band with a lot of history — it’s not fair to expect any fan to pretend this record exists outside of historical context, and it’s crazy to expect a critic to do that when part of a critic’s job is to provide context!

          I think your real gripe, as you mentioned, is with the marketing. You don’t think Matador is gonna scream and shout about all the collaborations and say “Nick and Grohl are back!” etc.

          FWIW I never even saw a press release from Matador about this record — they’re a really classy label with a great PR dept and they’re not apt to trade on empty sensationalism. My issue with the marketing pertained only to the rollout of songs. We heard six of 10 Clockwork tracks totally out of context before the first leak even emerged. And those six songs included AT LEAST the three best songs (“My God,” “If I Had A Tail,” “Missing”). By the time I got my hands on the LP, there wasn’t much left to knock me out. I think that was a mistake.

          Despite keeping his vocals front and center, I think this album shows a great creative and stylistic leap forward. You have to admit that at least.

          I don’t think it’s a step up, but I do agree that it’s a step forward. I think your analysis is pretty spot-on. Sincerely appreciate you sharing it.

          • Ya know, I do agree with many of your points and gripes. I do miss Nick and Lanegan sometimes (R and SFTD are still my favorites), but I also realize that things change and the bands I love sometimes change lineups. It sucks, but it happens – luckily Homme has kept me musically satisfied since SFTD and I’m loving LC.

            I honestly don’t read liner notes or research personnel on a track prior to or even upon first listen (or even the first 10 listens). I like a little mystery. When I first heard R (my first QOTSA album) I was floored, partially because I had absolutely no idea who these people were. None whatsoever. All I knew was I dug the tracks, a lot. Same with this album. I didn’t necessarily care who was on the album, or playing on each track, so I didn’t have the same problem you had upon first listen. I feel like you sorta self-sabotaged your enjoyment of the album in that regard.

            Oh yes, I definitely heard the new Bourdain theme song (tuned in for the pilot episode just to hear it, though I’ve been a long time Bourdain fan too). It’s great! I’d buy it if I could. Frankly I think it’s pretty cool that Josh invited Lanegan to do lead vocals on that track (despite Josh being commissioned to do the song himself, he could have easily hogged all the glory). Makes me think Lanegan just doesn’t fit into the QOTSA vision anymore (whether by his choice or Josh’s). Either way, I’m sure it’s cool. I met Lanegan a couple years ago. I asked him about Josh and he said they were gonna “check out a movie later.” Aww, bromance (though maybe it was sarcasm?).

            I think when Josh said “the robots are back!” he didn’t mean actual/specific people. I think he meant the “robot-rock sound” was back. I think it’s back.

            Thanks again Michael.

          • My Reviewer Is The Revisionist

  24. I fucking love this album point blank. QOTSA has yet to let me down.

  25. What I get from this “review?” is “oh my God why aren’t the big “stars” left to shine?!” Yeah if you’re looking for that, you’re listenting to the wrong record, this is a Queens of the Stone Age record, meaning Josh Homme, Troy van Leeuwen, Dean Fertita, Michael Shuman, Dave Grohl and Joey Castillo. You should actually be happy that they made this record this great and not be like, oh a song by Reznor, one by Elton, one by Nick ….The album blows away anything I’ve listened to this year.

    • Actually, if Stereogum is looking for the big stars to shine, they should be pleased by the shining moments of Josh Homme, Troy, Dean, Michael, Grohl, and Castillo.

  26. I think it is a reasonable evaluation for someone to make, its his thoughts on first passing of the record not his valued conclusion having lived with the record for a while, and to be fair the list of collaborators has been trotted out on every single press release and media article, thus a level of expectation has been set.

    I personally have really enjoyed the PR in the run up to the album release- the animated videos are fantastic. In an age where a band’s best chance of selling copies of albums for hard cash is via internet pre-orders letting fans, and potential new ones, hear half the record before its release is not such a stupid one. I splashed my cash on the pre-order a day after hearing My God is the Sun way back in early April.

    It is the most consistent and focussed Queens record by some distance, and contains some of JHo’s best song writing to date. He’s clearly put a lot of heart and soul into every fine detail. I guess he really tried his ass off here, and in trying so hard maybe the more casual loose moments that made the early records so special are missing.
    That said If I had a tail, my god is the sun, I appear missing are some of the best Queens songs you’re ever likely to hear and there is not a single track you’d want to skip. Looking forward to spending more with this record and can’t wait to see them live again.
    Long live Queens of the Stone Age.

  27. I’d be less inclined to treat this evaluation with scepticism if the same reviewer hadn’t already given Phoenix’s worst, most sonically samey and most awfully produced lp to date, “Bankrupt” such as strong thumbs up. (Compression is a plague of modern times)

    I also have issues with “Songs for the deaf” being touted as the Queen’s strongest lp, despite the awesome opening songs, it’s overlong, has a weaker back end and suffers from sonic saminess and the “radio” interludes are totally hackneyed. Rated R remains for me their signature calling card. Variety, tunes and inspired guests in equal abundance.

    Yes reviewing is very subjective, but you’d expect a reviewer to pickup on the kind of things half of the blogosphere has noted already. So I will wait to hear, still no wiser than before…

  28. Reviewer missed the point of the entire album. None of these people, other than Dave Grohl and Elton John, are really stars in the current sense of the word. This album is a collaboration between amazing musicians making music for the sake of quality music. Each voice flows into and blends with the next. It’s not about making everything sound like Josh, it’s about everyone together creating the overall sound. Wouldn’t each guest standing out have been much more of a gimmick?

    As a fan since Kyuss’ second album, I am amazed and excited that this band has consistently grown and changed enough to keep, not only my interest but also, me excited about the direction the band is going. Most bands subscribe to Wooderson’s maxim of “I keep getting older but they stay the same age.” QOTSA continue to age with me and realize that quality music can be both heavy and beautiful; sometimes even poignant. I never thought they could surpass their eponymous debut, for purely emotional reasons, but I stand corrected.

  29. It’s pretty amazing to see people so passionate about an album, a review and a band… I come here a lot and I had to do a lot of scrolling to get to the bottom; that doesn’t always happen. I’ve also been a fan of Queens since the Kyuss days. While i long for Mark & Nick to make triumphant returns I do think this reviewer is way to hung up on the guests…

    So about the record; overall it’s a grower. Some of the songs are really great and some of them not so much. I Appear missing is an instant Queens classic. Keep Your Eyes Peeled, My God is the Sun, Vampyre all pretty badass. Smooth Sailing, and I Sat By the Beach; not so much…

    I also agree with the comment above how they seem to age with me. It’s awesome that they continue to evolve and be relevant. I watched them destroy the Wiltern last night on NPR and i can’t wait to see them live again. Josh is sure making a hell of a discography…

  30. Don’t let this review shake you. I can totally see the reviewers point of view here, but at the end of the day QOTSA are pushing themselves into different realms. Moving forward. There’s new sounds coming through here. Plenty of killer songwriting. It’s a grower with a great bunch of powerful tunes in there. This band are classic. And every album that comes supports that. Each one is different and their catalog of music makes them one of the greatest bands in history.

  31. It’s an amazing album – I’ve loved the band since kyuss and have o say that this album is as good as anything they’ve done and is an instant classic.

    I think this writer just had different expectations. Kalopsia, fairweather friends, I appear missing, and I say by the ocean are standouts, but every track is awesome,

  32. Premature evaluation indeed. I have been a huge QoTSA fan for years, and this has to be my favourite album of theirs so far. Wonderful musicianship and songwriting, and to top it off, all of the songs are even better when played live. I cannot see a downside to spending $10 for this album.

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