Artist: Queens of the Stone Age
Genre: Hard Rock/Alternative Rock/Stoner Rock
Release Date: August 25, 2017
Length: 48 min.
Producer: Mark Ronson
Personnel: Josh Homme (Lead Vocals, Guitars), Troy Van Leeuwen (Guitars, Keys, Backing Vocals), Dean Fertita (Keys, Guitars, Backing Vocals), Michael Shuman (Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals), Jon Theodore (Drums)
Additional Personnel: Nikka Costa (Backing Vocals), Matt Sweeney (Backing Vocals), Fred Martin (Backing Vocals), Tai Phillips (Backing Vocals), Faith Matovu (Backing Vocals), James King (Saxophone), The Section Quartet (Strings)
Josh Homme stands a giant among his contemporaries. With his instantly recognizable voice and unique guitar playing, he is an unmistakable talent. In fact, he is one of the few musicians in the 21st century who has helped keep rock music alive and progressing. In 1987, he helped start a little band called Kyuss, which did much to pioneer the stoner rock/stoner metal genre. And in 1998, he helped form The Eagles of Death Metal, a quirky garage/blues/boogie rock band. He’s also been a part of other good projects. However, Homme’s biggest accomplishment by far is the band Queens of the Stone Age, which he and the rest of the guys began in 1996.
The last Queens of the Stone Age album, …Like Clockwork, had the seriousness you might expect from such an artist. However, like most of the halfway-decent rock music from the last many years (indeed, probably since the explosion of grunge in the ’90s), it lacks a certain enjoyable, breezy swagger. Not a self-serious, unnecessarily boisterous nature. I’m talking about the feel-good yet real swagger that so many of the great rock ‘n’ rollers possessed. I’m talking about the vibe you might pick up from such acts as Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, or ZZ Top. On this newest Queens of the Stone Age record, Homme, the boys, and producer Mark Ronson – who laid down one of the best pop singles of this decade, “Uptown Funk” – bring that sort of breezy swagger and inject it ever-so-well.
Homme said he wanted this release to be more danceable, more upbeat, more energetic, and it really is. This can be easily heard from the first instrumental notes on the album, the beginning of “Feet Don’t Fail Me,” which purposefully calls on a Jimmy Page through-line riff from “Trampled Under Foot.” This genuine rock ‘n’ roll energy continues for the rest of the album, despite the lyrics and songwriting, which, thankfully, reflect a matured Homme and Queens of the Stone Age.
Besides the usual hard stoner-infused alt-rock that the Queens of the Stone Age usually play, we also get, in Homme’s voice (at its best ever) and some of the instrumentation, a bit of a glam rock feel. This is not reflected in the production of the album, though. Ronson’s work here, as could be expected, really goes for a funk turn, with prominent bass and everything being layered very clearly and somewhat dryly. The first time I listened to this album, the clash of the stoner/alt elements with the glam and with the funk took me out of the record a bit. I wanted it to be bigger, more spacious, louder, maybe like a Van Halen album, or David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust days, maybe even Bob Rock’s work on Mötley Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood.
However, I could also tell that all of the work on Villains was purposeful, so, on consecutive listens, I began to be all right with what I originally felt was too much of a clash. Now, I love the production. The bass being prominent, as I mentioned before; the fuzzy guitar tones; even the flat, almost muted, yet bashing, hard-hitting drums. I’ve got into the groove for which Homme and Ronson were aiming. Are they one-hundred percent successful? Perhaps not. If a marriage of stoner, funk, and glam can work for you, Villains will.
That the instrumentation, vocals, performances in general, and writing are all consistent and quality here, and each track, I feel, is an excellent addition to Queens of the Stone Age’s catalog, makes up for whatever weaknesses might exist in moments, such as the two or three songs getting close to overstaying their welcome, or the slightly unnecessary Blade Runner-esque synth noises and swells at the beginning of the record and tying together each track, though that does introduce the album fairly well, and it certainly aids the transition between “Domesticated Animals” and “Fortress.”
In the end, Villains is an excellent record that I’m starting to love. It’s one of my favorite albums of the year.
I’m going to give Queens of the Stone Age’s Villains a 92%.