This Week in Music, June 4, 2013: Summoning “Ghost Brothers” with Mellencamp, King, and Burnett Page 2

QOTSA Clockwork

Queens of the Stone Age: . . . Like Clockwork

New release (Matador; tour dates)
Photo by Nora Lezano

“Keep Your Eyes Peeled” has riffs that are among the most sinister animals you’ve ever heard. “I Sat by the Ocean” is a peppy, hooky song that gets noisy but never stops us from humming and tapping. “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” bears down hard on a piano ballad. “If I Had a Tail” sounds like an inside-out pop tune heard from the bottom of a whisky glass, under the bang of big chords in the chorus.

All bases covered in just the first four songs — an indication that this album is gonna be vintage Queens of the Stone Age. Over the years, Josh Homme has sometimes seemed like a king of diminishing returns, losing/dismissing band members and misplacing his knack for songwriting. But . . . Like Clockwork, laughingly appearing 6 years after Era Vulgaris, is a huge return to form, mingling Rated R with the Desert Sessions side projects.

Back to the tracks: “My God Is the Sun” is fast and fleet, “Kalopsia” is all over the loud/soft map, and . . . well, hear for yourself. I don’t want to give everything away. Know, however, that the rest of the album confirms this isn’t punch-the-clock rock but a genuine revival, reminding us why we were compelled to bow down in front of Homme’s Queens in the first place. Also know that some prior associates are along for the ride — including Dave Grohl, who drums on most tracks, and even Nick Oliveri, who sings on “If I Had a Tail” and . . . wait for it . . . “Fairweather Friends.”

BFF Live

Ben Folds Five: Live

New release (ImaVeePee/Sony/Legacy; tour dates)
Photo by Autumn de Wilde

Hot on the heels of last year’s The Sound of the Life of the Mind, the studio reunion of Ben Folds Five, comes the band’s first official live album. It was recorded on the 2012-13 Mind tour at various locations, both domestic (the Warfield in San Francisco) and overseas (England, Japan, Australia). Nearly half the songs are from the first two albums: the self-titled debut’s “Jackson Cannery,” “Underground,” and “Uncle Walter” and Whatever and Ever Amen’s “Brick,” “Song for the Dumped,” “Selfless, Cold, and Composed,” and “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces.” Also here: four Mind numbers, the rarity “Tom & Mary,” and the Folds solo track “Landed.”

Renaissance Grandine

Renaissance: Grandine il Vento

New release (Symphonic Rock Recordings)
Photo by Richard Barnes

This is the first studio album by Renaissance since 2001, when longtime torchbearers Annie Haslam and Michael Dunford regrouped with Terence Sullivan and John Tout for Tuscany. A few years ago, a reunion tour with all five members of the 1970s band, including Jon Camp, was apparently in the planning stages but never materialized. A new lineup emerged instead, and after getting road-tested, it has now made Grandine il Vento. Dunford finished composing the tracks (with lyrics by Haslam) and recording his parts before his death last November from a cerebral hemorrhage. (That followed the death from cancer in 2011 of the band’s ’70s lyricist, Betty Thatcher.)

I’ve heard four of the eight new songs, and from that evidence, this album reminds me of the last major work from the band’s heyday, 1978’s A Song for All Seasons. “Cry to the World” is an intimate, acoustic-guitar-led number (with flute by Ian Anderson) that breaks into a lofty chorus. John Wetton duets with Haslam on “Blood Silver Like Moonlight,” a dramatic piano ballad. The 8-minute closer, “The Mystic and the Muse,” has enough Renaissance hallmarks (long instrumental intro, active bass lines, numerous themes, diverse arrangement) to make me eager to hear the 12-minute opener, “Symphony of Light.” Yet, for now, I’m most taken by something as ostensibly simple as the sweeping melody of the title track.

Oh, and believe you me: Haslam’s remarkable voice seems changed not a whit since she first held us spellbound more than 40 years ago. What’s present is Prologue? Fans who go all the way back would be wise to seek out this album.

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