Queens of the Stone Age step out of the darkness with In Times New Roman...
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
The record was sitting next to my stereo, open and ready to be played. But this past Saturday morning, there were things to do and errands to run, so the decision was made — I was going to listen to listen to this one in the car for the first time, something I hadn’t done with a new album in ages.
Backed out of the driveway, on the road, and the wicked, robotic riff that greets listeners of In Times New Roman... and the opening track “Obscenery” was off and running. Suddenly, those heavy riffs give way to a string section, bubbling up in the background first before overtaking the soundstage, sitting on its own as a breakdown of epic and disturbing proportions. And just as quickly, drums and guitars thunder back into the picture.
I’m barely two minutes into this eighth studio album by Queens of the Stone Age, but the takeaway is already clear — if the next nine songs bring it half as hard as this has, then my listening is set for the summer.
And if brevity is an issue, let’s make this clear — the next nine songs did. This thing is a 47-minute monster.
This record has been subtly billed as the third in a trilogy, beginning with 2013’s ...Like Clockwork and continuing with 2017’s Villains, and it does mark the third album by this version of the band — anchored on Josh Homme, of course, with Troy Van Leeuwen as his co-captain and Dean Fertita, Michael Schuman and Jon Theodore all joining, with 2023 marking a solid decade together. Where ...Like Clockwork saw the band step into deeper and darker material, Villains was a step back from the precipice, marked by producer Mark Ronson bringing out the danceable beats that have always been present in the band’s material.
But there were parts that threw me all the way back to 2007 and Era Vulgaris. Namely, the outrageous riffs and rhythms on “Paper Machete” and “Negative Space” were right in that wheelhouse, all glorious trash and metal. The band produced this one themselves over the past few years, taking the time necessary and working within the constraints that life threw at them. If this is the mark of a more mature Queens of the Stone Age, what better mark of maturity exists than honing and perfecting your craft?
I mean, my god, there are absolutely brutal moments on this record. The heavy, punishing grooves hardly let up over the course of 10 tracks, with the band slamming and crunching like no other. “Emotion Sickness” takes their stop-start signature to new extremes, and “Carnavoyeur” sounds like Homme stepping out of a circus from hell. But lyrically, Homme is reaching clearly processing some conflicts with a devastating touch. After a tumultuous few years, even by 2020s standards, he’s baring it all and letting loose, as on “Paper Machete.”
“The truth is just a piece of clay
You sculpt, you change, you hide, then you erase
You think you're brave? All the plans you made
Behind my back and from far away
Truth is, face to face, you're a coward
Sharp as a paper machete”
The mood permeates throughout the album, even if it’s not all quite as emotionally heavy as this. But the nod-and-a-wink that’s given this band it’s humorous touch is still there. Half the song titles make use of clever wordplay; “Made to Parade” calls back to the band’s previous two albums and Them Crooked Vultures; the surreal nature is still present in the lyrics, just as they were on the band’s debut album.
All this culminates in “Sicily,” an absolute tour-de-force on a record that already had me screaming in the car the first time it played. Homme steps to the mic in his sleaziest falsetto over a thumping bass, before the strings return in concert with the latest in a string of incredible riffs, the band marching in time, all creating a hypnotizing slice of desert rock that we’ve all needed for some time. I know I did, because this thing has hardly left my ears since I stepped back out of the car that morning.
Homme and company have created a songscape here that is as raw and vulnerable as anything else in their catalog. From those opening riffs to the closing “Straight Jacket Fitting,” where Homme declares that, “to seize your demons, you’ve got to free them,” it’s an exorcism through gut-wrenching rock. And it’s a masterpiece.
Play it wherever you need to. Vinyl is recommended, or at least something with a high bitrate, but this thing would be a killer on the worst speaker you can find. It almost doesn’t matter where or how it’s heard, so long as it’s heard. It will leave a mark.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org