Queens of the Stone Age ‘Villains’ Review: Josh Homme and co. embrace dance music without losing their quirky edge.
If Queens of the Stone Ages uptempo new album Villains feels like a reaction against 2013’s somber, mortality examining …Like Clockwork, it’s by design. In a recent radio interview, band mastermind Josh Homme described it as being like a panther in the trees leaping out of the darkness…ready to pounce.
And it’s clear from opening track Feet Don’t Fail Me that Homme’s mission statement rings true; it’s an ass shaker of the first order, kicking off with a throbbing bass intro that recalls Queen’s Flash Gordon, before exploding in a miasma of reptilian funk and new wave synths, with Homme’s opening line Life goes on/that’s what scares me so firmly fitting the current zeitgeist.
Dance tunes are the focus here, with producer Mark Ronson (Bruno Mars, Amy Winehouse) adding his sparse and airy pop smarts to the equation. Their choice of producer may concern longtime fans, but there’s nothing on Villains that approximates anything close to modern pop. QOTSA remain a genre unto themselves–this album is just the latest chapter in their evolution.
Take first single The Way You Used To Do: it’s dance-floor friendly, but wrapped in an unorthodox package of jazz and Texas boogie rock. It’s the kind of left turn jam that only they could deliver.
While Villains is more upbeat than …Like Clockwork and Post Pop Depression (Homme’s 2016 collaboration with Iggy Pop), some dark connective tissue remains. Domesticated Animals feel cut from the same cloth as Pop’s Berlin era, with lyrics full of nightmarish imagery (Get right up, kneel and bow/Shrunken heads parade through town), while the eerie Head Like A Haunted House is the aural equivalent of a treacherous carnival ride, oozing theremin squeals over a punk bassline.
While Homme wasn’t present at the deadly terrorist attack at Paris’s Bataclan nightclub (where his group The Eagles of Death Metal performed), it stills ways on his mind. The affecting ballad Fortress exposes those psychic scars: I don’t want to fail you, so I tell you the awful truth: Everyone faces darkness on their own…If ever your fortress caves, you’re always safe in mine.
Only QOTSA could weave a song together with elements of T.Rex, Berlin-era Bowie and Georgia Satellites, and that’s just what happens on the jaunty Un-Reborn Again, one of the strangest and most engaging tracks on the record.
That song also proves that even on an album with no guest musicians (a first for the group), their weird alchemy still keeps its crazy quilt dynamic: Troy Van Leeuen, Michael Shuman, Dean Fertita, and Jon Theodore are fine enablers of Homme’s mad scientist vision (although Mark Lanegan’s presence is missed).
Hideaway is another Bowie-ish track, with a keyboard line akin to Ashes to Ashes, where Homme pontificates in bemused fashion: I’m all dressed up, no one left to blow/Addiction to friction, these you wrote…It’s a beautiful day in the USA.
The Evil Has Landed is the most old school song, whose lumbering riff and raging outro recalls the group’s desert rock beginnings (speaking of, Songs For the Deaf turns 15 next week–stay tuned for a tribute piece).
The album ends with Villains of Circumstance, a moody, cinematic closer that (like Evil) feels alternately world-weary and hopeful, pushing against all the agents of chaos that seem to threaten on a daily basis: No magic bullet no cure for pain/what’s done is done until you do it again.
Homme stated in a recent interview with Rolling Stone that the Batacalan attack inspired his new ethos: You shouldn’t wait to do something or you’ll fucking regret it. Move now. If you have a beef with someone, squash it. If you want to do something, do it. This informs Villains adventurous spirit. It demands repeat listens to fully appreciate its knotted journey.
In the end, perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway from Villains. Life is for the living, and time is of the essence. Queens of the Stone Age are interested in moving forward in whatever direction they so choose. And for fans willing to follow them on their latest quest, the invitation to dance and shake off modern-day angst awaits.
Buy Villains on Amazon.