When I listen to rock music these days all I hear is a lack of ideas. Perhaps I’ve lost the nuance as I’ve tired of the strut, the highly choreographed urgency copied off all the bands that preceded them, the shredding guitars and self involved lyrics. To these ears all I hear are the same tools, the same techniques, the same approaches all subtly changed to appear new, like lipstick on a pig. Frankly you can doll up your swine as much as you like, but there’s no way you’ll convince me to slip the tongue in.
Occasionally something comes along that shatters the mould, like seeing the Swans live for the first time earlier this year at the Corner and being utterly terrified by the pure malevolence, the volume and backwoods tribal experimentalism in the music. At least they, and a few others like Om, Animal Collective, Black Dice and co are trying to further the genre, to create something new.
The best recent example of the dearth of ideas is the way the new Queens of the Stone Age Like Clockwork album has been received. There’s an elephant in the room. And that elephant is a turkey. My impression from scanning the reviews is that people are simply happy that QOTSA finally have a new album out, and this rapturous joy eclipses any care about whether the music is actually any good. Even so it’s received the kind of sensitive praise that people offer a friend who asks their opinion on a disastrous haircut.
“The most interesting rock band around, doing what they do best,” offered one critic, which is a diplomatic way of saying its run of the mill QOTSA but I like them. It’s all about their “nuance and craft” according to Rolling Stone, which means they’ve now learnt how to write a song. “There’s no denying the passion in creation put towards this album,” suggests Loudwire, which means they tried hard. Then of course there’s the things that people feel like they ‘should’ say like the AU Review with the band“produce an album that is every bit the Queens of the Stone Age we fell in love with,’ which means that they have not progressed in over a decade.
What’s interesting is that all the reviews spend an inordinate amount of time, discussing front man Josh Homme’s near death experience on the operating table, his myriad of stupid guests or fill the first couple of paragraphs discussing him as some kind of rock demigod. It feels like the consensus is do anything but talk about the music. Of course after building him up so much, you can’t very well go on and can his album. If you think this album is shit, well then buddy the problem must lie with you. Are you a demigod? No? Well clearly don’t understand genius when it’s marketed to you.
Why aren’t more people talking about the elephant? Asking why the music is so middle of the road (MOR), so limp? Are you not allowed to ask those questions of rock royalty?
What if they’re acting much more like soft rock or dare I say soft pop royalty these days? Because make no mistake Like Clockwork makes Kyuss sound like Merzbow, Foo Fighters like Slayer.
Then of course there are the drummers. Dave Grohl is of course renowned for the violence with which he punished the skins in Nirvana. Jon Theodore is probably one of the most innovative drummers in rock with a pedigree that boast Mars Volta and Royal Trux. Why then are their beats so pedestrian? You’ve got these incredible drummers but you make them play like click tracks?
The problem isn’t that the album is boring; they’re entitled to make insipid music if they wish. It’s the media’s peculiar game, or at best collective delusion that’s more worrying, where rather than speak the truth they leave it to you to read between the lines, decode the text and discover the turkey in the elephant suit.
After writing this the album went to number one on the charts in Australia, the US and more than likely everywhere else…..