Queens of the Stone Age, ‘In Times New Roman … ‘: Album Review
The pandemic affected artists in different ways. Some went into hiding, some acted like nothing had changed. Several even documented the long months in their work. And then there are Queens of the Stone Age, who welcome their fate with an indifference that borders on glee. "Every living thing will die, from the king of the jungle to butterfly," sings Josh Homme in "Carnavoyeur" from their eighth album, In Times New Roman ... . "There's nothing I can do / Accept, enjoy the view."
Or maybe it is just resignation spiked with a bit of optimism about what may arise from the ashes. Either way, they're dancing on the graves of the past – even, at times, their own. In Times New Roman ... doesn't sound much different from other Queens of the Stone Age albums: Everything is coated in a sludgy mix of fuzzy guitars and bottom-feeding drums and bass, but with an apocalypse either narrowly avoided or on the horizon, depending on your view, they're all the more potent.
Their previous album, 2017's Villains, was abetted by producer Mark Ronson's adherence to groove-based music. It shook up QOTSA's two-decade status as the world's premier stoner-rock band enough to leave a distinguishing mark in their catalog. In Times New Roman ... finds them returning to more familiar ground, a little more angsty and worn down than last time. Homme's recent personal issues (including a custody battle over his three kids) and COVID-19's still-lasting effect on society can't help but play a part in this.
The opening "Obscenery" whisks guitars from one side to the other as Homme doubles down on a falsetto that barely rises above a musical clatter which shifts from synth-assisted strings to a brief percussion interlude that teeters on breakdown. It's a highlight of In Times New Roman ... along with the brooding "Carnavoyeur" and "Emotion Sickness," a horns-raising riff monster that nearly begs for room-clearing volume. Produced by the band and recorded at Homme's home studio and Rick Rubin's Shangri-La facilities, the album could be a sequel to 2013's excellent ... Like Clockwork. Check out the appropriately lacerating solo in "Paper Machete" and the devilish march of "Made to Parade," throwbacks to classic QOTSA.
But all the sludge and grime comes with some baggage: "What the Peephole Say" is by-the-numbers wheel-spinning. The nine-minute closing track, "Straight Jacket Fitting," tags on an acoustic coda, a head-cleaning of sorts that will have you wishing it was a few minutes shorter. Homme's desperation, however, is real. Talk of oblivion, suicide, emotional casualties and being torn up inside are themes found in In Times New Roman ... . “The world’s gonna end in a month or two," he sings in "What the Peephole Say," a sense of relief, rather than dread, overcoming him.