Queens of the Stone Age
Photo: Andreas Neumann / Nasty Little Man

Six Years Off Isn’t Enough to Derail Queens of the Stone Age

Despite the personal turmoil for Josh Homme, In Times New Roman… is remarkably consistent with Queens of the Stone Age’s last few records.

In Times New Roman...
Queens of the Stone Age

Queens of the Stone Age have become known for taking long breaks between albums. After an initial run that saw the band release five albums in its first decade, In Times New Roman is just the group’s third record in the past 15 years. The band’s lineup has solidified, with no changes for over ten years. Frontperson Josh Homme has also settled down, working on fewer side projects and producing gigs.

Why the six-year delay between records this time, then? Unfortunately, Homme’s personal life became fodder for gossip columns in the interim. Homme released a lengthy statement addressing the issues about a month before the new album came out. His 15-year marriage to the Distillers’ frontwoman Brody Dalle ended in divorce in 2019. The couple shared custody of their three children for about a year until Dalle started dating someone new, and the custody agreement fell apart. Homme places most of the blame for the situation on the new boyfriend. It was a mess involving restraining orders, courtroom drama, and finger-pointing. Ultimately, the domestic issues were resolved with Homme getting custody of the children, Dalle receiving a two-year restraining order, and her boyfriend getting a five-year restraining order.

This drama fuels some of Homme’s songwriting for In Times New Roman. There’s always been a lot of anger and grievances in Queens of the Stone Age songs, not to mention that many of Homme’s lyrics are at least somewhat abstract. There’s some guesswork involved, but at least one track, “What the Peephole Say”, ends up feeling direct, although not explicit.

Amid a thundering low-end groove and slashes of guitar noise, Homme opens the song by singing, “I don’t care what the people say / If you gotta knock then go away.” He mentions other ideas, like brainwashing, avoiding bullshit, and returns to the title with, “Don’t care what the people say / Going deaf deliberately.” The chorus finds Queens of the Stone Age shifting into a pounding, driving beat as Homme goes into falsetto, singing about wolves going after sheep. It’s a high-powered rocker, but the standouts are Michael Shuman’s fuzz bassline and Jon Theodore’s drumming.

“Peephole” is followed by “Sicily”, one of the most distinctive tracks. It starts slowly, with sparse percussion and a simple bassline. Homme sings in his falsetto, which sounds as good as ever. Just before the one-minute mark, the main riff kicks in, a catchy yet obnoxious set of notes, doubled on guitar and keyboard, that slides up in pitch and settles back down. For the rest of the song, Queens of the Stone Age toggle between this loud riff and the much more sparse verse-style sections. A long build-up pushes the riff back to the fore and lets them jam out through the end. At just over four-and-a-half minutes, it’s loose but not unstructured, and with two good, simple musical ideas, it shows off their skill as an ensemble.

The same can’t be said about “Made to Parade”, which opens as a classic mid-tempo Queens of the Stone Age rocker with big basses and fuzzy guitars. Lyrically, it’s a somewhat muddled, sarcastic screed about the evils of working for corporations. Its most distinctive feature might be the circus-style organ sound that Dean Fertita plays, but it doesn’t quite mesh with the rest of the tones. This makes it feel noisy but unfocused.

More successful is “Time and Place”, which opens with a rhythmically odd guitar riff playing all by itself. Once the drums and bass kick in, the riff doesn’t exactly snap into place so much as it becomes layered on top of the beat. The way the out-of-time riff interacts with the standard 4/4 beat is weird and fascinating, and Homme keeps it going throughout most of the song.

Then there are the portmanteaus. Homme has filled up the other half of In Times New Roman with tracks titled with mashed-up words. This has never been a thing for Queens of the Stone Age, but it’s all over In Times New Roman. It doesn’t affect the quality of the songs, but it’s noticeable and a bit strange. The record starts with “Obscenery” and follows it with “Paper Machete”.

“Obscenery” is another mid-tempo song where Homme conflates selfishness with empty sex. It has an excellent groove, with Theodore using his whole kit to give the drums a variety of sounds. The buzzing guitar tones are also quite strong. The most exciting points of the track, though, are the two short instrumental breaks. In the first, a string section appears out of nowhere, briefly injecting the song with some horror movie flavor. In the second, Theodore is left on his own, drumming the beat for a few seconds until the bass and guitars return.

“Paper Machete” is one of the better songs. Essentially Homme has done a rewrite of Queens of the Stone Age’s 2002 single, “Go With the Flow”, with just enough variation to make it work as its own song. An excellent fuzz guitar solo that verges on sounding like a vintage, 1970s-era synthesizer is a highlight, as is Homme’s wordless humming that pops up several times.

“Carnavoyeur” uses circus organ synths to much better effect than “Made to Parade”, and it’s one of the rare instances where Homme goes into full-on crooner mode with his vocals and lets them sit slightly above the mix. There’s plenty of guitar noise here, too, and superfluous strings, but it’s nice to decipher the lyrics right away instead of taking several listens. “Emotion Sickness” has one of the album’s better vocal melodies, and its refrain of “Baby don’t care for me / Had to let her go” seems pretty direct for Homme.

The nine-minute “Straight Jacket Fitting” closes out the album with a slow groove that switches up into a bit of a dark bounce. The song drifts through several sections without losing focus on its central groove and wraps up shortly before the seven-minute mark. It then returns with an acoustic variation, with guitars strumming as a cello bows away in the background. It’s reminiscent of Songs for the Deaf‘s acoustic closer “Mosquito Song” and provides a nice contrast to the rest of the record.

Despite the personal turmoil for Homme, In Times New Roman is remarkably consistent with Queens of the Stone Age’s last few records. They aren’t breaking much new musical ground (adding strings for contrast sections is different), but getting a new set of fuzzed-out heavy rock songs from Homme and company is a welcome treat. This isn’t the best place to start with Queens of the Stone Age (R and Songs for the Deaf remain their high points), but longtime fans should be happy to have them back again.

RATING 7 / 10