Queens of the Stone Age review, In Times New Roman: Josh Homme vacillates between vulnerable and vindictive

Queens of the Stone Age (Andreas Neumann)
Queens of the Stone Age (Andreas Neumann)

“Clutching, hanging by a nail in this life/ When there’s nothing I can do… I smile…” croons Josh Homme on In Times New Roman. The 50-year-old desert rocker’s had a rough time in the six years since the release of the glammy, Mark Ronson-produced Villains. Some of his best friends have died (including former bandmate Mark Lanegan, in 2022, and drinking buddy Anthony Bourdain, in 2018). His 2019 split from wife Brody Dalle devolved into a series of restraining orders and a battle for custody of their three children. Just this week, he revealed he was treated for cancer last year.

So this self-produced record finds Homme and co squaring up to the darkness: sometimes with a shrug and sometimes with a teeth-baring sneer. Fans will be happy to hear the band lock into some great, grinding riffs to drive the 10 new songs that clock in crisply around the four-minute mark. The band’s trademark raw revving is balanced at times by elegant strings and even a three-part harmony that works surprisingly well. Think of Crosby, Stills and Nash if they’d joined a biker gang.

Homme is hanging by a nail on “Carnavoyager”, on which he adopts a Bowie-style dry yelp. You can almost hear him raising his eyebrow as a fairground organ spins a slow-queasy hook that’s soon picked up and spun off-kilter by the guitars. It’s like being on the Waltzer when a sadistic ride operator swaggers over to your carriage, smirks and gives you a shove. You’re left with no choice but to laugh as the centrifuge grips you. There’s a similarly grim acceptance to “Obscenery”. Acid strings melt corrosively down the semitones as Jon Theodore’s drums pound without compromise. “Consequences schmonsequences/ I can hum it if you like?” Homme sings.

There’s more of a direct attack on “Paper Machete”, which seems to be aimed squarely at Dalle. Over a solid headbanger beat and some scrawly-screechy fretwork, Homme rips into a betrayal of vows and paints a picture of a woman who shape-shifts to assume the form of “Joan of Arc, victim, perpetrator” by turns. “My love is dead,” he assures the world, accessorising the sentiment with some sarky-schmaltzy “oh-oh-ohs”.

There’s some filler. But melody-lite tracks such as “Sicily” and “Negative Space” bob by on their bass line grooves. Nine-minute closer “Straight Jacket Fitting” isn’t quite the epic journey it wants to be, as Homme taps into comparisons between the fall of the Roman empire and the decline of modern America. Lyrics devolve into lists: “Patriotic, probiotic, deletists, racists… infiltrators, saboteurs” before Homme gets vulnerable. He refers to his cancer and asks: “Hold me close, I’m confused.” His swooping, sighing falsetto is good and the choir is a classic rock touch. The brass adds lift. But the song chugs along without ever quite taking off.

The best track is “Emotion Sickness”, which opens with the sound of a studio door swinging closed and Homme singing casually before the band whump into action. This is where we get those three-part harmonies. There’s a cool, lopsided riff bouncing off the bass’s steel-sprung suspension, then the weirdly sweet, late-Seventies AM radio chorus of “Baby don’t care for me/ Had to let her go”. It’s catchy and carefree. “People come and go on the breeze,” swoons the bereaved Homme, reminding us that they can also leave vapour trails in our hearts.