Release Date: Aug 25, 2017
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Worried about producer Mark Ronson parping his brass sections all over Queens’ sacred desert rock riffs? Worry not. Within the first 90 seconds of ‘Villains” opening track ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’ – an apocalyptic rumble that builds into the kind of gargantuan, guitar-stabbing strut that’ll make whole arenas simultaneously lose their minds – it’s clear that Josh Homme and co have lost none of their ferocity. If anything, Ronson simply fine-tunes the swagger that’s been there all along.
It’s relatively safe to say the news that Mark Ronson—the British pop producer behind Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, who struck gold in 2014 with his single “Uptown Funk”—was producing the forthcoming Queens of the Stone Age record sent waves of fear through the hearts of the band’s longtime followers. Is QOTSA’s seventh album Villains a little slicker? A little tidier? Danceable? The answer is yes. But Ronson’s touch has not made Josh Homme’s songs any less heavy, weird or ambitious. Take a song like “Domesticated Animals,” Villains’ best offering.
"Queens of the Stone Age" always sounded like the best glam-band name ever, and while Josh Homme's free-ranging heavy rock hypnotists were never quite that, they come as close as ever on Villains. "I was born in the desert May 17, in '73" Homme declares on the opener, "Feet Don't Fail Me" .
It’ll come as news to no one that Queens Of The Stone Age man mountain Joshua Homme likes a bit of a boogie. The bequiffed high priest of desert rock has always imbued his full-throttle stoner sound with a certain amount of hip-shaking sass, but on ‘Villains’, he truly lets his dancing shoes take the floor. The heavy-duty rockers’ last album, 2013’s portentous ‘Like Clockwork’ was packed full of cameo appearances from their famous friends, Elton John and Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner included, but on album number seven only one guest has been allowed through the studio doors.
Queens of the Stone Age’s new album opens with a spot of self-mythologising. “I was born in the desert, May 17, in 73,” croons Josh Homme on Feet Don’t Fail Me. “When the needle hit the groove, I commence to moving / I was chasing what’s calling me.
Paramore are a good example; always clearly a pop outfit at heart, but not actually revealing themselves as such until they started to channel the likes of Best Coast and Blondie on their self-titled album in 2013 - of course, they doubled down on that front on May.
Josh Homme has always enjoyed tweaking the nose of genre and gender. It’s why he called his band Queens Of The Stone Age, a theatrical attempt to subvert the macho tendencies of the hard-rock world. His latest wheeze is to ask pop heavyweight Mark Ronson to produce Villains, QOTSA’s seventh album. It’s similar to the mad logic that resulted in Elton John (“The only thing missing from your band is an actual queen,” he told Homme) appearing on …Like Clockwork, but the results are far more enjoyable.
There's Acid-Faced Jake, who 'likes those dancing straight boys, make his pupils dilate'. Evil Ol' Scratch is a real low-life, the kind of guy that drinks water from the gutter. Skinny is the fool of the gang, 'knowing nothing about nothing is a blessing, in fact'. And you'd best watch K Dub, he'll 'give a metal blow job, the middle finger 'n' split', apparently.
Truth be told, Josh Homme has it all. He’s reached the top of the rock A-list without ever appearing to have struggled for a hit single, nor was he pressured to. He’s now in that Valhalla where the longer he waits to release an album, the higher it charts — 2013’s six-year-hiatus-breaking …Like Clockwork reached the top of the Billboard 200 Albums chart.
Queens of the Stone Age are back with more riffs, more swagger, and a little bit of swing. This time around frontman Josh Homme and guitarist Dean Fertita are coming off a very successful collaboration with Iggy Pop, which resulted in an album and tour. That project seems to have been something of a palate cleanser for Homme, because Villains is more energetic than 2013.
It's clear when listening back to Queens of the Stone Age’s ’98 self-titled debut that Josh Homme and his revolving line-up of cohorts have come a long way since the days of simply smashing desert rock and nihilistic stoner metal together to chaotic effect. The band’s back catalogue depicts a solid timeline of progression through the mainstream and out the other side to 2013’s …Like Clockwork – an album that personified the intricate and minor-keyed inner workings of Homme’s brain. The album pushed the boundaries of what fans considered to be Queens of the Stone Age’s M.O., whilst garnering rave reviews from critics.
For many a rock purist, Queens of the Stone Age are looked upon as saviors within the fossilized programming of commercial rock radio. Led by Josh Homme's precariously cool demeanor, the band's desert-tinged riffs and well-crafted sleaze induce memories of a time when rock meant to sound dangerous. Which is why you'll occasionally hear No One Knows snug in between chart-toppers like Lights Out and Thunder, an upfront reminder of how the format has shifted to empty posturing without the attitude.
The mild dance-rock inflections on Queen of the Stone Age’s Villains offer little deviation from where frontman Josh Homme was already headed. Homme contributed heavily to both Lady Gaga’s Joanne and Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression, the latter of which brightened its brooding guitar-rock crunch with a few pop accents. If the slightest Top 40 influences have crept into Homme’s work with his own band, even the most dyed-in-the-wool rock purist should be thankful: This album’s pseudo-danceable moments add welcome wrinkles to a formula that’s otherwise begun to feel leaden..
There’s a debate raging at the moment about what’s happened to critical music writing. What’s happened to it is that life’s too short to pour out bile at something you dislike when you write for free in your spare time, usually late at night or around your actual job, simply for the love of the music. Most of us would rather give things which we care about a platform, and champion causes or stories we feel need highlighting, only sticking our oars into the already oil-slicked seas of the internet to review something we’re fairly sure we’ll at least find interesting, before catching some sassy shade in the cataclysmic depths of the comments section.
"The Way You Used to Do" marks maybe the darkest chapter for Josh Homme's Queens of the Stone Age. The direct-input guitar, pumped full of pulpy funk is the sound of a band satisfied with themselves— and that's dangerous. You can picture it now: Homme hip-slinging, leather jacket wrapped around his towering shoulders, cigarette hanging from his lips.
Four years after the storming return to form that was ‘…Like Clockwork’, Josh Homme and his motley crew are back again, with an arsenal of debauched, amped up stoner rock tunes to help you forget the political Armageddon that has descended on the US since their last record. While some artists have dived head first into the fragile state of America under Trump, ‘Villains’ is very much business as usual for Queens Of The Stone Age, with Homme declaring: “Queens has always been like an ice-cream parlour or a video arcade, it’s safe from the bullshit of the day. ” But the desert rock icons haven’t made it to rock A-lister status, hanging out with the likes of Dave Grohl, John Paul Jones and Elton John, just from playing it safe.
When I’m preparing to write a review for an album by an established artist, I usually go back and listen to their discography so I can put the new album in context. Villains was no exception—after I got my hands on it, I spent a few days going back through Queens of the Stone Age’s earlier albums, and came to a realization: this is a really, really good band. Rarely do I encounter an artist with such consistent yet varied output, all presented with a healthy dose of self-awareness.
After blasting out five albums in the first nine years of Queens of the Stone Age, Josh Homme has backed off in the last decade in a considered effort to make the band newly relevant to not just his fans but to himself. On .
There’s a good chance the average pop radio listener couldn’t spot Mark Ronson in Coachella’s VIP section and an even better chance they think “Uptown Funk” is only a Bruno Mars song. Yet he’s managed a feat that was beyond Dave Grohl, Lady Gaga, Iggy Pop, Rob Halford and Sir Elton John—he’s given Queens of the Stone Age a narrative. Whereas their fellow fixtures of 21st century American rock were byproducts of the Meet Me In the Bathroom era or indie rock’s absorption of alt-rock, Josh Homme’s ever-evolving project came out of nowhere and never left.