In the wake of relative sobriety, Josh Homme holds his bleeding heart out more than ever. He’s never been a rockstar in the egotistical sense, although he seems less flagrant than in the past, adopting a gentlemanly Van Dyke beard now that he’s in his 50s. He’s as eccentric as ever and perhaps more reflective, searching for meaning in life’s impasses.
In the years since Queens of the Stone Age‘s last album, 2017’s Villians, Homme dropped his drug habits, experienced severe health issues, grieved over the deaths of friends, including Anthony Bourdain and Mark Lanegan, and went through a messy divorce starting in 2019, all culminating into heavy depression. Despite his downward spiral, he was awarded custody of his children, and all this duress has fed into Queens of the Stone Age’s eighth studio album, In Times New Roman…, the end of a trilogy of albums starting with 2013’s …Like Clockwork.
Their most diaristic record, these songs are like snapshots of Homme’s recent obstacles and his attempts to make sense of them rather than writing feel-good rock songs about using copious drugs. Homme has lived a lot in the last several years, so he’s had plenty to reflect on. His sobriety has given way to a clearer mind, and his experiences have humbled him. Throughout this album, he spills out his criticisms of his ex-wife while considering his well-being. “Obscenity”, “Emotion Sickness”, and “Paper Machete” are full of bitter, resentful lyrics about his broken marriage with Distillers and Spinnerette frontwoman Brody Dalle, the latter song portrays her manipulative tactics and hurtful words as a flimsy weapon.
Deeply authentic and sentimental, Homme’s introspections broaden into larger universal truths concerning acceptance and futility. In Times New Roman… is lyrically their most earnest album to date. It’s mainly about loss, grief, and acceptance of oblivion; all spun with gallows humor. The lead single, “Carnavoyeur”, is saturated in vulnerability. Homme’s voice is weary and resigned to fate as he pontificates on death, singing, “Clutching, hanging / By a nail in this life / Desperate always / Always looks that way.” Homme’s smooth mid-to-high range voice is more immersed in their songs than ever. Through entranced melodies and haunting moans, he sounds like he sings with his eyes rolled into the back of his head, possessed.
Homme’s grief and brooding are wrapped in his sense of humor, a significant part of his idiosyncratic nature. He finds humor in the worst aspects of his life, and aside from the silly portmanteau song titles of some tracks, his guitar work carries a sarcastic tone, such as the chunky, mocking riffage of “Negative Space”, coupled with Michael Schuman’s fat, thumping bass, and Jon Theodore’s simple yet sophisticated drumming. While expounding on oblivion, the band finds the time to mock the pomp and melodrama of rock music that takes itself too seriously.
Queens of the Stone Age are widely considered desert and stoner rock, but In Times New Roman… struts too much for such a category, like a ruffle-feathered bird with an off-balanced stride. Their rhythms are brash and audacious, swinging the way they did before signing to Matador. If they use standard four-chord progressions during verses, they’ll rough up the edges of the song’s prickly textures and dissonant swagger. Bluesy and delirious, “Made to Parade” blusters with dirty groove and swells to a climax as Homme cries out with an understanding that he can only help himself. “Straight Jacket Fitting” goes into progressive territory with a madhouse ostentation and vocals that veer towards insensed soap box speech.
Even the guitar solos across the album shriek, squeal, and disorient like electric smears. In Times New Roman… is classic Queens of the Stone Age in all its grit and posture, but with a newly found lyrical resonance, making it a worthy late addition to their consistently upstanding catalog.