I’ve spoken briefly about my roundabout introduction to Queens of the Stone Age. It’s taken me some time to assemble my thoughts on their music. Specifically this record. As I have given this much thought, I’m going to make a bold statement. Brace yourselves.
Like Clockwork is a perfect record. Perfect.
Bold statement indeed. As a rule, I avoid speaking in absolutes on most things. Even when, or especially when I think I’m right. But this just might be a case where a daring declaration may be necessary.
First impressions. I opened the gatefold jacket and was immediately struck by the artwork. The comic style illustrations with bold colors and sharpened edges depict a dystopian setting. Crows in a desert. A rat bearing an eye patch. A man bloodied in bandages. The inner sleeves are bold and dark. Just enough detail allowed through the darkness to make out the image, but not much more. I would find this to fit the tone of the record perfectly.
I gently set the needle down on the edge of the vinyl and caught myself holding my breath. Waiting for the first sounds. It sounded… off. As though I was listening in slow motion. I gave it a moment. Maybe that’s what they were going for? No, this is definitely not right. I picked up the needle and stared quizzically at the record. It looked normal. I flipped it over searching for an obvious answer. There was none. I set the record back down on the table and stared for another moment. Then it hit me, it’s not 33 1/3. The record is pressed in 45rpm. Brilliant. It’s a small touch that makes listening to the record so much more interesting.
Again, I set the needle down.
Glass breaking. Sounds of violence. This is the introduction to what feels like a journey through madness. I read somewhere that the band recorded this album shortly after Josh Homme’s very near brush with death. Very near in that he actually died and was brought back. Like Clockwork was born in the fog of that recovery. The spectre of death seems to lurk in every corner of this album. A jagged picture is drawn of a man dealing with mortality, and coping with being alive again after experiencing his own death. It touches a tucked away corner of my soul that I can, in a smaller way, relate to. I don’t mean to speak for what the man’s intentions were, it is simply an interpretation.
If life is but a dream, wake me.
One might think that material so dark, so crushingly sad would in fact be depressing. However, I find it quite the opposite. The intricate layers of sound, varying tempos and time signatures, and his own haunting vocal style draws me in and holds me on the edge of my seat, very much along for the ride. And a ride it is. The music swells and crashes like a man struggling to breathe while being drawn beneath the waves. In a fight for his life. Perhaps his sanity.
Side A ends with The Vampyre of Time and Memory. The man has been brought back to life. But it’s not a life he remembers. An unrecognizable face in the mirror. Side B is all about the transitions. The lines between the lines. (Lo-FI radio) Feeling on top of the world, but drifting in and out violent madness. (Breathing) Kalopsia might be a pick for my favorite track, but I’m not sure I should pick one. It is the perfect personification of the struggle. Floating. Dreaming. Drifting away. Wave bye-bye. Then shocked violently awake.
Moments of beauty interrupted.
Side C feels like that night out we’ve all had: hanging out with bad influences (Fairweather Friends), making terrible decisions. Smooth Sailing is the night that goes sideways as a result of those choices. Caution is chemically thrown to the wind, and when the dust settles and the sun rises, he’ll pick up the pieces. Or maybe he won’t.
… Prisoner on the loose/Description: The spitting image of me/Except for the heart shaped hole/Where the hope runs out.
I Appear Missing. The dying man is resurrected. Whether he wants to be or not. Death is the easier option now, but he doesn’t get to choose. He has accepted, almost welcomed, his own death but still walks the earth. Wandering along the road in the summer night. It is the haunting climax to this carnival like ride through a broken psyche.
The transition into Like Clockwork, is seamless. Almost, gentle. This record that feels so much like a scream ends with but a whisper. I’m alive, I speak, I breath. But what now?
One thing that is clear/It’s all down hill/From here
Haunting. Dark. Crushingly sad. Beautiful.