Top of the Pops: …Like Clockwork

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May 12, 2015 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

Describing the insidious genesis of …Like Clockwork, band leader Josh Homme revealed “I think I was just lost, looking for something in the dark.  In that dark I found …Like Clockwork”.  Borne of desolation, desperation, and dejection, …Like Clockwork is the most personal, and focused album ever recorded by Queens of the Stone Age.  Because of everything the album has to offer, from killer riffs to hypnotizing lyrics, there’s no doubt that it’s the greatest album that Josh Homme has ever put together…in any band.

From phony friends to superficial spectators to careless lovers, no one is spared Homme’s righteous indication.  Not only does he go on the offensive on tracks like “Fairweather Friends” and “I Sat by the Ocean”, but Homme also directs his rage internally, homing in on the bout of depression that crippled him for a year.  …Like Clockwork opens up with one such song, “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”, which immediately puts you on edge like the third act of a horror movie.  A vividly monstrous description of depression, the opening track sets the tone for the rest of the album with hauntingly valid lyrics such as “thoughtless, trapped in my minefield…danger, monster of smoke and mirror” and “the view from Hell is sky blue, so ominously blue”.  Using his own experience as an example, Homme masterfully illustrates what it’s like being caught in the hopeless throes of depression.

Later songs, like the sarcastic “If I Had a Tail”, the sorrowful piano ballad “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” and the Bowie inspired “Kalopsia” all retell, in eclectic fashion, Homme’s war with depression, a war that the cathartic nature of …Like Clockwork helped him win.  The most underappreciated song on the album, “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” continues on with the theme of depression and the idea that along with perpetual hopelessness, lies a cold soulless sense of ever-permeating logic that undermines every thought and every feeling.  The driving force of the ballad isn’t’ crushing riffs or avalanche inducing drumming, but an impersonal piano, mimicking that unfeeling and uncaring sense of rational despair.  From Homme’s personal war came growth, and three tracks into …Like Clockwork that musical and spiritual growth is made evident.

For anyone who has ever suffered from depression or anxiety, you know how it can turn you into your own worst enemy, your perfect nemesis, and make you feel like an illusion of yourself, a living shell of yourself, hollowed out leaving you bereft of yourself and everything you love about yourself.  Half of …Like Clockwork is dedicated to waging war on that internal force that most don’t realize rests within them until it takes them away from themselves.  That internal force with a limitless potential for destruction which can turn you into someone you’re not, is what Josh Homme attacks in an attempt to exorcize his own demons.  From the pain and despair that was wrought, comes freedom from a self-imposed bondage that is burned away by the fiery rage that nourishes …Like Clockwork.

The best songs on …Like Clockwork are the ones that allow Homme to expel his repressed rage in an attempt to singe everything, both internal and external, that held him down.  Turning the spear outwards, “My God is the Sun” is a scathing criticism of people who look for a deus ex machina to come in and solve all their problems.  Instead of looking inwards, people will wait around idly for someone or something else to save them.  Much like how certain ancient civilizations worshipped the Sun, and looked to these inanimate and hollow objects, “My God is the Sun” chastises the idea of looking for an external solution when an internal solution is needed instead.  “Heal them with fire from above, kneeling my god is the sun” is the hymn sung by those who refuse to look inwards for relief and salvation from oneself.

…Like Clockwork is a fearless album that takes no prisoners, and on “I Sat by the Ocean”, Homme targets his unrequited love who ignored and left him.  Graced by the most memorable riff on the album, and one of the best lines of the entire album, “I sat by the ocean, and drank a potion baby to erase you”, claws at the pain in trying to get over someone who was never into you.  Homme relives the very last thing any guy wants to hear in a breakup when he mockingly wails “Said ‘boy if you want love, you’ll have to go and find it with someone new’”.  He laments, “Imagine I’d be your one and only, instead I’m the lonely one”, ruing the foolishness of hoping for love, when it would inevitably fail.  “I Sat by the Ocean” carries over the theme of pain, but it’s a pain that ultimately leads to growth, wisdom, and improvement.

Because every song leading up the two best tracks are so perfectly crafted in their own right, there isn’t much of a reason to be impatient for “Fairweather Friends” and “Smooth Sailing”.  The former slowly intensifies in ire, as if the song becomes more self-aware of these deserters.  By the end of the track, Homme is ready to move on from all the fake people and superficial solutions to his problems; he’s ready to put the bad feelings behind him and move on.

Whereas “Fairweather Friends” gives the finger to anyone who deserted or cheated Homme, “Smooth Sailing” is an annunciation that Homme is moving on, as well as a renunciation of any detractors and negative forces.  Homme is signing the peace treaty on all his personal wars when he proudly exclaims, “I’m burning bridges, I destroy the mirage…fuckin’ bon voyage”.  He reprimands himself for being controlled by his depression, “Fear is the hand that pulls your string, a useless toy pitiful plaything”, and asserts his own dominance, “I blow my load over the status quo”.  One of the few remaining examples of Trent Reznor’s involvement on …Like Clockwork, “Smooth Sailing” has a very industrial feel to it, that’s somehow both aggressively reasserting, yet slightly uncomfortable.  A whole Queens of the Stone Age album influenced by Trent Reznor wouldn’t have worked so well, but a single song inspired by Nine Inch Nails proves to be the best song on a nearly perfect album.

…Like Clockwork is one of the best rock album since the 1990s, and if more rock albums were like it, rock wouldn’t be resting comfortably in the coma that it’s been in for 20 years now.  It’s not simply an angry album, it’s an album that seeks to heal that anger by expelling it and dispersing it unto the necessary parties: fleeting girlfriends, superficial friends, and ultimately himself for being susceptible to the destructive nature of depression.  It’s a dark album, but it’s one that ends on a less ominous note than when it starts, all to represent Homme’s emotional journey and the healing process needed to expunge his personal demons.  …Like Clockwork is a nighttime album because it exists in the dark; listen to the album with no lights on, let your mind wander, and see where it will take you, because in the darkness, you too will find …Like Clockwork.

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One thought on “Top of the Pops: …Like Clockwork

  1. Kevin Lee says:

    This is like a message in a bottle, but don’t know how else to reach you:

    “The Joker is that snake spastically writhing across the desert sands with its back broken trying desperately to spell out its own name despite not being able to remember it.”

    I have been a fan of the Joker for 50 years. That is the best description I have ever read. I am in awe of its terrifying beauty.

    Well done.

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