Josh Homme, mainstay of the Queens, is not the sort of man who gets low. Over 17 years as a frontman he has exuded a muscular joie de vivre; endowed with both wit and occupational certainty, he gives hedonist rock piggery a good name.

Homme likes to get down, not low. Smooth Sailing, one of …Like Clockwork's highlights, is, perhaps, this rock guitarist's louchest-ever dancefloor funk workout. "I'm in flagrante!/ In every way," he declares. After eight years in a previous heavy rock outfit, Kyuss, the founding maxim of Homme's second band – Queens – was to induce hip-swivelling as much as head-banging. Smooth Sailing could happily camp out on the tracklist of Homme's least famous side project, the new wave and boogie-influenced Eagles of Death Metal. (Homme's more famous side project, Them Crooked Vultures, finds no less than one of Led Zeppelin and one of Nirvana acting as his rhythm section.)

Most of this sixth Queens album, however, finds this great red oak of rock laid low. As he tells it, Homme emerged from a knee operation in 2010 in "a fog", having flat-lined and been brought back to life by a defibrillator.

The fog didn't clear. The album progressed slowly. Homme and his drummer of 10 years, Joey Castillo, parted ways acrimoniously. A sense of things having had to change hangs over these songs, in which unlikely guests combine with innovations (like James Lavelle's string arrangements on the title track) to make this the Queens album furthest along from the Stone Age.

So named because it wasn't really going like clockwork, …Like Clockwork finds drummer Dave Grohl pummelling away for the first time since 2002's Songs for the Deaf. Significant cameos include previously ousted, now-forgiven bassist Nick Oliveri (on backing vocals), Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys and Elton John, who told Homme the Queens needed an actual queen, and reduced Homme to the second biggest party animal in the room.

Their group piece is Fairweather Friends, a resentful slow-burner in which Elton's piano has to hold its own, strung between the wet-pylon guitars of Homme and Troy Van Leeuwen. Even better are pugnacious riff-driven throwbacks, such as My God is the Sun, and forceful pop tunes, such as I Sat by the Ocean. Both improve on the Queens's so-so last album, 2007's Era Vulgaris.Despite the two Britons directly involved, it's the unacknowledged influence of a third, David Bowie, that recurs. There is something about Homme's crooned phrasing on The Vampyre of Time and Memory that recalls 70s Bowie, an impression that redoubles on If I Had a Tail. Then there's Kalopsia, arguably the least Queens-like song the Queens have ever recorded, half-gauzy Moog soul, half-shouty glam rock.

Kalopsia is just one instance on …Like Clockwork where Homme's words carry more weight than his guitars. For all the charm of their headline singles (such as 2000's Feel Good Hit of the Summer),in which Homme and Oliveri shouted the names of drugs), Homme's lyrics have often felt a little incidental; oblique, pithy sounds delivered with offhand soul but rarely worth quoting.

The title track finds this previously vengeful alpha male crooning: "Not everything that goes around comes back around, you know/ One thing that is clear/ Is that it's all downhill from here." With this album, you'll be scrabbling for a lyric sheet because Homme seems so uncharacteristically unmoored.

Contributor

Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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