Queens of the Stone Age are dogging me again, just like they did the first time we met. Only now it’s much worse because, for one, I’m usually tethered to a screen, and once “the Internet” figures out I like something, it won’t let me forget that it knows what I like. So the weird and woozy strains of “Kalopsia” and chunky funk of “I Sat by the Ocean” accompany my online Pottery Barn splurge from ads featuring QOTSA’s 2013 album …Like Clockwork.
Back during our initial acquaintance in the late ’90s, the idea that QOTSA would ever be “mainstream” didn’t seem plausible. Yes, lots of so-called indie acts transitioned to larger audiences throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, and QOTSA’s third album, Songs for the Deaf, was a hit with critics and fans. But even then the group’s muscular, groove-heavy, desert stoner rock never seemed to me a candidate for mass-appeal mall music. Color me wrong. Here they are, 15 years later: at the Grammys; doing the late-night shows; headlining Coachella; and in your town, hawking Clockwork during a full-throttle tour.
Here’s how I remember my first QOTSA encounter: June 1, 1999, I was headed to The Joint to catch Hole. It was nearing the end of Courtney Love’s consideration as a serious musician, her post-Kurt slipstream fizz-out. The opening band’s name hadn’t registered with me, but I’d parked shortly after they came on. As I made my way toward The Joint’s main doors, it was as if a giant, invisible hand was pushing me back, such was the sonic force of the sound. Their songs were thick enough to taste, as QOTSA’s front man Josh Homme—a massive, slouching monolith—snarled the lyrics to “Regular John” and “You Would Know,” and bassist Nick Oliveri strutted and thrashed across his side of the stage.
Between songs, it was clear the crowd didn’t know what to do with Queens of the Stone Age. The way I remember it (which may or may not be accurate at all) was as an eerie silence, punctuated by coughing, a few polite claps and the shuffling of shoes; they were obviously there for the headliner. I, on the other hand, hightailed it to a long-since-defunct record store and bought their self-titled debut CD. For the next six months or so, in this pre-digital-music age, it was pretty much the only disc I listened to.
By 2002, when QOTSA caught fire with Songs for the Deaf, I’d moved on from Las Vegas, but caught them on this tour. Their next two albums, Lullabies to Paralyze and Era Vulgaris, were fair enough, but lacked the intensity of Songs and their debut. As Homme and other members played more frequently with side projects such as Eagles of Death Metal and Them Crooked Vultures, I, too, drifted away from QOTSA.
When …Like Clockwork was released, I didn’t rush to listen to the album. After Era Vulgaris, I thought I knew what to expect from the Queens. They’d become—I felt—kinda “predictable.” So, on my initial spin through Clockwork, I hadn’t expected to be stopped cold by songs like the haunted “Vampyre of Time and Memory” or the muscle-rock swagger of “If I Had a Tail.” I wasn’t prepared for much of the album. Maybe I was the one who’d become predictable?
Clockwork comes seven years after QOTSA’s last studio album, and its title makes for all types of clever adages about timeliness and history and such, but put those thoughts aside. Clockwork, instead, takes Queens of the Stone Age to a place they seemed headed toward to begin with, and one that’ll be better understood than 15 years ago.