“The shingles that peppered Queens of the Stone Age’s DNA have been all but sanded down leaving a melodic, squeaky-clean reinvention of the band we thought we knew.” – Will Butler, Under the Radar
I couldn’t help but detest some past reviews for the new Queens of the Stone Age album, Villains. It’s the group’s seventh studio album, released on Matador Records, this past August. Like Butler sort of stated in his review, Villains is a reinvention for the group, which in anyway, wasn’t surprising. Homme was featured on the most recent Arctic Monkeys record, AM (2013), which also served as a change in sound for Arctic Monkeys – giving clear emphasis on the guitar and the revival of boogie rock. Homme also produced and appeared on Iggy Pop’s latest album, Post Pop Depression (2016). Also appearing on that album was Queen’s member, Dean Fertita and Arctic Monkey’s drummer, Matt Helders. There’s an odd relationship occurring here, where Homme basically took elements from his last few projects and incorporated it all on the new Queens album. However what’s odd here, is how Villains features no guest musician appearances, unlike their past albums and obviously the increase of Homme’s colloborations. That means, there is no David Grohl, Iggy Pop, Alex Turner, or Lady Gaga. It’s only Mark Ronson as producer and Homme and crew greased and leathered up for one of the most unexpecting highlights in music of 2017.
If you were a huge fan of the last Queens album, …Like Clockwork (2013), then you were possibly fooled. On the opening track, “Feet Don’t Fail Me,” you hear right from the start, the very dark medieval strings and synths featured on the last album. The word painting of the strings at the beginning shows the anticipation and heart rate of the die-hard Queens fan, as they are approaching the gates of Hell. Homme’s vocals become especially sinister on the following track and lead single, “The Way You Used to Do.” It’s the most jumpy and dancey Queens song up to date – Homme turns Alex Turner AM sexy. The music starts to fade away, and you can only hear these effects echo a later track featured on the album. “Domesticated Animals” is too lyrically similar to the concept of Planet of the Apes. Here, Homme sounds like the lead ape revolutionist, Caesar, but oddly in an alluring dark fashion. As the song is ending, you hear this scream that is reminiscent of past Queens member, Nick Oliveri’s singing style featured on the classic Songs for the Deaf (2002). After another small transitional effect that sounds like Green Day’s “Hitchin’ a Ride,” the album quiets down and Homme’s vocals become specially beautiful and the songwriting stands out rather than the instrumentals. On the remarkable “Head Like a Haunted House,” I can’t decide whether the group sounds more like the B-52’s with the wicked screaming backing vocals, the Cramps in relation to Homme’s tone of voice, or the lead guitar sounding like a mash of Devo’s “Wiggly World” and the Dead Kennedy’s “Holiday in Cambodia.” The transition to “Un-Reborn Again” features a whole ton of biting and cruel synths, along with Homme adapting his inner Bowie. “Hideaway” sets a very 80’s post-punk/goth mood along with a Duran Duran ballad. It’s the weakest and most forgettable track on Villains, but it fits the sound and quality of the album offers, especially with Homme’s ravishing vocal delivery. The next track, “The Evil Has Landed” is a drastic change. It opens with a Led Zeppelin-eqsue guitar riff, as Homme’s high singing reflects his guitar style. You get lost during the solo, sort of like how Homme did when he kicked a female photographer in the face at the KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas show. I mean the tour is in support of an album called Villains, however, this all might be too soon. In the last half of the song, you realize that the group doesn’t want to end, so they form an entirely new riff, while the effects start to overdub the previous one, leading into a jam – one of the best moments on the album. The final track, “Villains of Circumstance,” ends in the same way the album started. It’s very dreamy and shadowy, as you hear Homme singing about how far he is from the one he loves. Plus with contrast and battling of the band jamming with the overpowering strings is unforgettable.
As the album fades away in this closing track, you may find yourself replaying it over and over again. It’s a pure solid rock n’ roll album, obviously with Homme and other members paying their respect to a number of their influences. It is their most consistent record, with every track balancing well due to the clever mixing and production of the album. This may not be as classic on the same levels as Rated R (2000) or Songs for the Deaf in any means, but its certainly as good. The band finally started to change their sound, but went in the direction of a music genre, such as garage and dance rock, that was last relevant a decade ago. It doesn’t matter though because Villains is one hell of a journey.
Classic Tracks – “Un-Reborn Again,” “Head Like a Haunted House,” “Feet Don’t Fail Me,” “The Evil Has Landed” and “The Way You Used to Do”
Ehh – “Hideaway”
You can listen to Queens of the Stone Age Villains here.