Queens of the Stone Age – “…Like Clockwork”

Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “I Sat By the Ocean,” “Fairweather Friends”

“…Like Clockwork,” the long-teased and longer awaited new album from hard rock heroes Queens of the Stone Age, should be listened to with “Songs For the Dead” in mind, their behemoth, Grammy-winning album from 2002. “…Like Clockwork” is similar to “Songs” in three ways. The first is the re-introduction of former contributors Dave Grohl and Mark Lanegan, as well as ousted bassist and founding member Nick Oliveri (who only shows up in background vocals on two songs, but it is still a re-introduction). The other two similarities are thematic. “Songs” was a concept album, imagining a radio playing on a drive in southwestern America, and featured many Christian references. “Clockwork,” too, seems to feature a number of Christian references, if nothing more than metaphors. (Compare 2002′s “God Is in the Radio” to 2013′s “My God is the Sun”) Casual listeners might equate Josh Homme’s lyrics to those of the religiously-tortured soul of Dave Gahan, but Homme frankly chooses to sing about whatever he wants to.

The third similarity is the idea of conventional radio rock. “Songs” had a running theme of QOTSA’s songs playing on every station, in an attempt to solidify themselves as the kings of conventional rock radio. It worked, oddly enough, and they reflect that on “Clockwork.” Every one of the ten tracks feels significantly more conventional and regular than anything they’ve done before, with musical build-ups in slow songs and catchy guitar rhythms in the faster ones. Homme’s vocal melodies are incredibly catchy, even radio-friendly (particularly on the track “If I Had a Tail”). The album is still heavy, of course, but this is a side of QOTSA that has always stayed subtle. It is the band’s shortest album, and has only three songs over five minutes, a departure from the five on “Songs.” Homme likes to throw the audience loops and keep things fresh, which is tough to do for a rock band. “Clockwork” is almost a bit of a joke, in a way, that the original thing about it is its unoriginality. One almost has to wonder if the almost-optimistic sound is a response to Homme’s brush with death, or whether it is more of QOTSA’s relentlessly great tongue-in-cheek humor.

This does lead to some problems, however. “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” the opener, never hits the intensity it thinks it does, and although the hauntingly-rhythmic “I Sat By the Ocean” follows it up, the tepid and unnecessary “The Vampyre of Time and Money” sits right after. And having this feeling of ‘Is this a joke or not?’ is a little iffy given that people have been waiting six years for a new album. The album grows stronger as it proceeds though, bolstered by barely audible but still appealing guest spots from Trent Reznor, Alex Turner and Sir Elton John (which was a surprise to come across). Homme is still heroically egotistical at times, which is when QOTSA is at their best. The album lacks at some points, falling too far into the unoriginality, but it is yet another great entry from the band overall.

-By Andrew McNally

Alice In Chains – “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here”

(Photo credit: www.imwan.com

(Photo credit: http://www.imwan.com)

Grade: B-

Key Tracks: “Voices,” “Pretty Done”

A cut-and-paste rock album with a different singer might not be what all the 90′s revivalists are looking for, but Alice In Chains prove they still have some energy and spunk left. It’s been eleven years since the death of the original Alice In Chains singer, Layne Staley. He was a reclusive and tormented man, which brought life to the dark lyrics of Alice In Chains’ early music. The band’s reunion in 2005 with a new singer, William DuVall, was seen as misguided by many. But the band trekked on and released “Black Gives Way to Blue” in 2009 to surprising critical acclaim. Original guitarist and composer Jerry Cantrell picked up lyrical duties as well, becoming the band’s chief songwriter.

Their new album, “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” is more of the same for the band. The lyrics are typically gloomy and cover a wide spectrum of dark topics, including songs with titles like “Scalpel,” “Choke” and “Hung on a Hook.” The lyrics, penned by Cantrell, are effective, although the title track’s tackling of the blending of politics and religion just flat out does not work. The music is still loud and shrieking, with the monstrous and sludgy guitar tone from their previous album returning. Even in their advanced years, Alice In Chains are still being praised for bringing originality into heaviness.

“Devil” flows surprisingly well. The transition between the album’s first two tracks, “Hollow” and “Pretty Done,” is nothing more than a moment of silence before a similar rhythm comes in. Likewise, the fourth track, “Voices,” one of the slower songs, ends by building up volume before transitioning into the more haunting sound of the title track.

There is a problem with volume, however. The band focuses on the volume of it’s doom-and-gloom guitars, but it is consistently overpowering the vocals. DuVall and Cantrell share vocal duties, both with strong voices. On many tracks, though, the lyrics are only audible enough to hear, not audible enough to discern.

Alice In Chains’ original run had a number of emotionally powerful albums bolstered by Staley’s lyrics coming from real pain. Cantrell, chief lyricist, successfully follows in Staley’s footsteps in the manner of dark and haunting poetry. Post-Staley Alice In Chains, however, sounds like a band having fun in the studio, a band that probably is not feeling the lyrics they are singing. There is not necessarily anything wrong with this, it just further separates them from the 1989-1996 Alice In Chains that was popular on rock radio. “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” is an inventive rock album that plays around with traditional rock music while maintaining the sound. It does not resemble the original Alice In Chains, but it is still an enjoyable listen overall.

-Andrew McNally