The release of Villains has got the music community, quite rightly, fearful and excited – the King of the Jungle/Ginger Elvis striding racing and prowling the plains in search of satisfaction. In fact, that might be the sensation one got from Queens of the Stone Age’s previous album, …Like Clockwork (2013). That record, celebrated by critics, showed a darker and swamp-dwelling stomp to the band – following from the twilight, by-the-fire intensity and evocativeness of Lullabies to Paralyze. Villains, in many ways draws a line between their albums Era Vulgaris and Rated R. Homme and crew are in town and, as we know, have just played Leeds (Reading to follow, one would imagine). After a four-year wait, many would forgive the U.S. band for repeating themselves or losing some of their focus. Singles ‘The Way You Used to Do’ and ‘The Evil Has Landed’ prove, not only have they upped their game – they have taken in new influence and fresh sounds. The addition as Mark Ronson as Producer means Queens of the Stone Age, when they announced his involvement, raised eyebrows – Ronson brings shimmer, swagger and his immense knowledge; adding new impetus and nuances to the legendary group.
The first seconds of any album are always a little nervy – one never knows how it will sound and how they will react. In any case: they are essential and pivotal. Fears are allayed instantly as get a brooding and fantastical blend of whisper, what-if and moodiness mutate into a fire-gun, riffled guitar riff. ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’ recalls Queens of the Stone Age’s tautest and most but-swivelling moments. In terms of albums: a hint of Them Crooked Vultures (Homme’s side-project with Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones) and …Like Clockwork’s standout cuts. From that intriguing introduction and funky-as-crap middle: we get different sections, suites and mutations. It showcases Mark Ronson’s musical knowledge and intelligence – combined with the raw intuition and endless talent Queens of the Stone Age as synonymous with. ‘The Way You Used to Do’ is one of the most accessible and direct songs from the album. Embers of Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra, oddly, combine as Homme croons, rocks and jives like never before. Its chorus is one of the most infectious of the year – one of the definite standouts from Villains. ‘Domesticated Animals’, despite its title, has a wild side – able to tame and demure at other moments. Its drugged opening quietens to twanged strings and tee-me-up sexiness. Homme steps into the spotlight as burning bridges “light up the sky”. Referring, perhaps, to current domestic situation in the U.S. – those who stand up for revolution and destruction are made to sit right down; maybe nods to Trump and his wild ideas – but, if anything, it has a more common and universal heart. Its chorus, again, ingrains in the mind and has enormous singalong potential. ‘Fortress’, one of the calmed and open-hearted songs, sees Homme opening a protective layer – protecting a heroine who has yet to find sanctuary. It is a stunning song but not one of the stronger offerings – taking a little momentum from the first three songs. We need to slow after a rambunctious trio but ‘Fortress’ does not fully transition into a viable calm – a little light around the edges.
‘Head Like a Haunted House’ is all Glam and twanging bass. We have whistles and racing guitars – bit of Ramones mixing with Led Zeppelin. It is a cartoon theme and chase: it is Josh Homme scatting, spitting and wiggling his leather-clad backside with intensity. A sexual and sweaty workout where, again, Ronson opens the sonic treasure-chest. Guitar effects and varied beats: little asides and layers make it a deep, sumptuous and delicious track – quirky and off-kilter one moment; more conventional and restrained the next. ‘Un-Reborn Again’ starts with futuristic and squelchy electronics (almost like a modern Gary Numan track) and sees “Acid-face Jake” enter the album. Vivid and scene-setting lines and ideas mix in – the fountain of youth and fairy-tale clothes among them. ‘The Evil Has Landed’, the penultimate track, is where the band really goes for it and brings everything to the party! The switches in guitars in the initial stages; Homme’s voice going from falsetto to baritone – it is a dizzying and unpredictable number that never sits still. A busy and intense offering that, again, one could apply to the current U.S. government. Seeing as the album’s cover depicts Homme’s eyes being covered by The Devil – the eyes appearing on The Devil’s hands, no less! – it is an unofficial title-track. An extraordinary introduction to ‘Villains of Circumstance’ – a perfect way to end a staggering album. One needs several listens before they can take in all Queens of the Stone Age has packed into nine sings!
Nineteen years after Queens of the Stone Age’s eponymous debut: the guys prove they are one of the most adaptable, relevant and consistent bands of the generation. Each release brings something new to the plate. Any reticence fans had during the pre-release/promotion stage have been allayed by an album that is among this year’s very finest. The tequila-seeking, music-owning Queens of the Stone Age, given their partnership with Mark Ronson, have produced one of the strongest albums of their career. Let’s hope the bond between Ronson and the band continues because – and we do not have to wait another four years for another record! Their latest album, Villains, affirms they are a true Rock act in every sense – one that continues to evolve and act as guidance to the pretenders and weaker alternatives. 2017, up until this point, lacked the brand of cool and quality only Queens of the Stone Age can provide – thank God that has changed!