After a six-year hiatus, Queens of the Stone Age have returned with their eighth album In Times New Roman. The angsty record emerges from the rubble of personal difficulties experienced by frontman Josh Homme during this period – a messy divorce, a custody battle, and a cancer diagnosis. With the new release and recent announcement of an international tour, Queens of the Stone Age are back to reinstate their status as distinguished hard rockers. Stepping away from the more blatant notes of experimental pop incorporated in their 2017 album Villains, they sink into their recognisable grit to deliver a myriad of brooding messages through the ten tracks of In Times New Roman.
Obscene is a brash and unsympathetic opener that lures listeners in with immediate sludgy riffs. Josh’s vocals fall over a timidly introduced bass line and deep percussion, Josh asserts his freedom as he mocks the idea of moulding to fit social expectations. It is his own form of obscenity critiqued through wordplay and a snarky hook. An eerie and discordant string arrangement marks the halfway point of the track, setting a tone of haunting cynicism for the record. This is prominent in Paper Machete, a punky alliance of distorted rhythm and penetrative melodies. “The truth is just a piece of clay/You sculpt, you change, you hide, then you erase” is the fundamental principle of a sceptical Josh as he lashes out against a betrayal that has ultimately killed his love. He crumbles under the weight of the betrayal in Negative Space, eventually admitting “My love will not survive/Emotion sickness, I wanna die”.
Carnavoyeur cuts through the consistently dense riffs with an unexpected slight electronic shift. A buzzing synthesiser rhythm is the heart of the track, driving the build-up of the guitar. Paired with Josh’s unique vocal style, the track feels like an experimental heavy rock spin on 1980s synth-pop. What the Peephole Say stays in line with this electro sound as it buds into a rebellious anthem fuelled by frantic guitars and hushed backing vocals that creep up as a little voice to reinforce a feeling of powerful defiance. Emotion Sickness is the first single from the album and while it is not the final song, it brings a sense of closure through the smooth harmonising of “Baby don’t care for me/Had to let her go, oh/People come and go on the breeze/For a whole life? Possibly”. This light-hearted contrast leaves listeners unprepared for the nine-minute closing track Straight Jacket Fitting. Trudging on through an industrial fog, Josh enters with a mischievous tone and a sleazy guitar riff. His distaste for the constraints of society is clear as he embarks on an edgy monologue, the climax of the record. The intoxicating groove carries through until the outro, a gloomy acoustic instrumental with bright notes that evoke a sense of deliverance.
In Times New Roman marks a sharp comeback for Queens of the Stone Age. With their return, they revisit the dark, crunchy lyrical and instrumental quality that has gained them popularity across different alternative rock subgenres. Without straying too far away from this, the album tests the waters with its instrumentals, subtly introducing pop styles and spoken word without becoming overpowering. A strong, personal album, this is a battle of loss that finds its way to acceptance.