All the surface evidence on ...Like Clockwork suggests Josh Homme is steering Queens of the Stone Age back to familiar territory. Once again, he's enlisted drummer Dave Grohl as his anchor and he's made amends with his erstwhile bassist Nick Oliveri, suggesting Homme is returning to either Rated R or Songs for the Deaf, the two turn-of-the-millennium masterpieces that thrust QOTSA out of their stoner rock cult, but ...Like Clockwork isn't so simple as a return to roots. Homme flirts with his history as a way to make sense of his present, reconnecting with his strengths as a way to reorient himself, consolidating his indulgences and fancies into a record that obliterates middle-age malaise without taking a moment to pander to the past. Like always, Homme opens himself up to collaborations, wrangling an impressive roster that includes his wife Brody Dalle, his longtime companion Mark Lanegan, his protégé Arctic Monkey Alex Turner, his kindred spirit Trent Reznor, Scissor Sister Jake Shears, and superstar Elton John, but despite this large cast, the only musician who makes an indelible presence is Homme himself. ...Like Clockwork is unusually focused for a Queens of the Stone Age record, containing all of the group's hallmarks -- namely volume and crunch, but also a tantalizing sense of danger, finding seduction within the darkness -- but there is little of the desert sprawl and willful excess that have always distinguished their records. This is forceful, purposeful, fueled by dense interwoven riffs and colored with hints of piano and analog synthesizers that quite consciously evoke '70s future dystopia. QOTSA always specialized in this eerie sexiness, but the precision on ...Like Clockwork -- quite different than the merciless propulsion of Era Vulgaris, the 2007 album that closed out their time at Interscope -- feels conceptually tight, Homme smartly sculpting guitar fuzz, elastic solos, haunted harmonies, and deceptively slinky rhythms into a cool, relentless collection of heavy rock. The force impresses but also the restraint: there are missed beats and open space, muscular music that seduces and pummels, even manages to soothe while it assaults. It's complex, harder, and catchier than anything QOTSA have done in a decade, and more song-oriented, too, but that's a sign of maturity: Homme has marshaled all of his strengths on ...Like Clockwork and has found a way forward, a way to deepen his music without compromising his identity.