So, a main stream release on an independent label: call this a potentially lucrative identity crisis. As it is, the newest album from Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork, is being advertised at Target, sort of out of step with the typical indie mindset, Matador Records being home to other un-Target-able acts like Majical Cloudz, Mission of Burma, Cat Power, Jay Reatard and Kurt Vile.

But, QOTSA is a rare thing: a well-known band with FM and indie clout. It makes sense for Matador to capitalize on its newest acquisition, squeezing both the casual shopper and the record store frequenter for either the affordably priced CD or the suitable-for-the-audiophile priced vinyl.

But, marketability being marketability, …Like Clockwork also reassembles the core line-up that produced the brilliant Songs for the Deaf, that intoxicating and bulletproof collection of metallic rock nuance and artful aggression that remains one of the millennium’s best and most fully realized works. Josh Homme’s mix-n-match approach to cultivating fruitful musical line-ups, a characteristic that has defined QOTSA as an enigmatic and perpetually changing unit, serendipitously brought together Mark Lanegan, Nick Oliveri and Dave Grohl, whose contributions resulted in the album’s varied persona. Songs For the Deaf boasted a heavy array of blues, metal, punk and hook-laden rock n’ roll, all held under Homme’s sonic umbrella and a unifying concept that kept it cohesive.

So, maybe it was habit — maybe there’s a routine now to enlisting the aid of contributors to thicken the resolve of any Queens of the Stone Age album. Considering how minimally involved other parties were with 2007’s Era Vulgaris, I figured Homme was content to cement the line-up and just create albums with as little outside help as possible. But, …Like Clockwork carries a heavy roster. Aside from Lanegan, Oliveri and Grohl, featured are Sir Elton John, James Lavelle, Trent Reznor and Alex Turner, a wealth of others sprinkled across the album’s ten tracks. Interestingly, though, as Homme more or less indicated with 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze, QOTSA is his, his co-conspirators be damned. They’re of no real consequence, other than Grohl, who makes significant his role in “My God is the Sun” and “I Appear Missing.”

I’ve given this album fifteen spins. There’s no real magic number here, but as an admittedly devoted fan I realize there’s going to be some want to forgive obvious mistakes, the simple ownership and existence of a brand new QOTSA album reason enough to blur the line between fanboy elation and critical objectivity. Fifteen spins allowed the twinkle in my eye to fade enough for me to realize the actuality of …Like Clockwork in the context of “album” and not altered by the angelic glow of my devotion. Six years in the making, …Like Clockwork follows a slew of difficulties in the studio and a near-death experience, (Homme almost died after complications during a surgical operation and was then bed ridden for four months). A tour in support of the reissue of the band’s 1998 debut followed his hospitalization and writing for the album grew out of rehearsals. …Like Clockwork is slow and melodic, understated and patient. You can almost hear an infatuation with many of the guitar albums of the 70s, drawing comparisons to bands like Queen, King Crimson, Thin Lizzy and Spirit. Above all, the album is melancholic and dark as if personal. There’s nothing truly abrupt in terms of Homme’s usual off balance forays into rhythmic shifts and guitar soloing. Every transition is seamless. Even “Kalopsia,” whose slow piano tap dance leads up to the song’s heavy chorus, somehow sounds fluid.

“Keep Your Eyes Peeled” is introduced by broken glass, which leads into a guitar riff that almost sounds charred. While I won’t say “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” sets a precedent, the song’s pace and complete absence of light is mostly maintained up until the ascending and descending guitar chords that announce the lively “God is the Sun.” Even “I Sat By the Ocean,” with hands clapping and a relative up tempo stride, still sounds appropriately brisk and fits in well with the ballad “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” and the pensive “If I Had a Tail” (“Tears of pleasure/Tears of pain/They trickle down your face the same”).

The second half of the album follows the energy of “My God is the Sun” with the very light and melodic “Kalopsia,” a Flamingos style refrain of the vocal preceding a culmination of screams and periods of heavy volume. The guitars stay awake for the 70s rocker “Fairweather Friends” (piano courtesy of Sir Elton John) and then Homme jokingly throws his dick over his shoulder with “Smooth Sailing,” Homme’s voice at times almost emulating Eagles of Death Metal crooner, Jesse “The Devil” Hughes. Its inclusion does detract a bit from the overall feel and sequencing of the album, most of which is impassioned in some form or another. Not that the song is bad, but it’s an odd man out.

“I Appear Missing,” though, makes …Like Clockwork remarkable. While I myself was immediately entranced by Homme vocally and the overall tone of the album, “I Appear Missing,” a song both tender and frustrated, to me, stood as the payoff: a six-minute beauty that seemed the culmination of everything I’d heard up to that point. It also boasts some of the best percussion on the album, Grohl caught up in a rapid flurry at an odd moment of sonic chaos and placing his kick drum at interesting points throughout the song. Truly, it’s really the album’s only moment of overstatement, when most of Homme’s effort is concentrated through melody and unexpected dings in the song's structure.

The title track is a somber little number, relying on piano and string arrangements. It would’ve been easy to go out on a grand scale, an orchestral boom meant to heighten the album’s sincerity. But, instead, “…Like Clockwork” makes the most of its quieter moments, allowing the music to slowly build into a modest outro. No reason to "blow" its "load over the status quo."

There may have been a missed opportunity here. QOTSA’s newest album could been viewed as a wasted chance at reinvigorating what once was, removing Homme from the equation just enough to revisit that perfect union that had brought Rated R and Songs for the Deaf to fruition and rekindling the creative partnership that seemed to flourish with ideas. Sure, it might’ve been cool to explore the possibilities.

But, that’s evidently not where his head was. Whether Homme, (for one song mind you), put Lanegan with Oliveri and Grohl together or not, there was no looking back. With Homme, there’s always a desire to look ahead, to try something else. Rated R and Songs for the Deaf have been done, tremendous footnotes in the evolution of a great band. …Like Clockwork is strong on its own, running on its own steam in an effort to say something else. An artist grew a little the day he died; it would be a missed opportunity to do anything else.