Label: Matador/Rekords Rekords

Man, is it satisfying when one of your favorite bands recaptures something about themselves that you'd loved but they'd lost. That's happened this year with one of my favorite bands, Josh Homme's desert-born, drug-fueled hard rock outfit, Queens of the Stone Age. I was a fan of Homme's first band, Kyuss, a heavier, jammier more-tripped-out version of what would become. But with the first two Queens albums, 1998's self-titled debut, and their masterpiece, 2002's Rated R, Homme really came into his own as a songwriter. The power was still there, but the music was tighter, sharper, unforgettable. 2004's Songs for the Deaf continued in the vein, and (with Nirvana and Foo Fighters vet Dave Grohl sitting in on drums, became the bands biggest hit.)

But then bassist Nick Olivieri left the band—was kicked out, actually, for substance abuse problems. The next two albums, Lullabies to Paralyze and Era Vulgaris, were still hard and sharp, of faster average tempo, maybe? Tight and trebly? But something less definable was missing. Olivieri, it can be surmised, brings an important counterpoint to Homme's leadership. A looseness? A wildness? A grungy depth? Whatever it is, it's back. Olivieri has rejoined the band, thank goodness, and Like Clockwork stands among the Queens' finest works. Slow-and-low, down-and-dirty, but with greater touches of flowery beauty than Homme has let himself indulge in before, the album is stoner hard rock at its very best. Something that no other band on the national stage is even trying to do anymore. It sounds like the desert again. Big sky, wide open spaces. Something sinful. Pure awesomeness. —Dave Bry