Friday, 1 September 2017

Album Review | Queens of the Stone Age | Villains

image source: andreas neumann

Queens of the Stone Age are back and better than ever. Acting as the follow-up to their 2013 record …Like Clockwork, Villains builds itself upon familiar ground. One could say the two records are like siblings; four years apart with a burgeoning rivalry as to who will pertain top spot within the band’s recent endeavours.

Frontman Josh Homme explored the depths of depression, isolation and all-round emptiness (following complications from a knee surgery) creating and recording …Like Clockwork; coming to terms with how he needed to push through this near-death experience and become the man that we can hear on Villains. With the support of his band-mates Troy Van Leeuwen, Dean Fertita, Michael Shuman and Jon Theodore (Theodore replaced drummer Joey Castillo after ...LC), …Like Clockwork enabled the band to regain their footing and project a message of ‘if we can get through this shit, so can you’.

Villains continues this message, with Homme reflecting on themes that ravaged its predecessor. The nine tracks of Villains demands the listener to give the middle finger to your villains, and leave a legacy for your loved ones. And above all else, to keep dancing ‘footloose and fancy free’ as Homme sings in the opening track ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me Now’.  

Queens of the Stone Age are a band known for keeping it fresh whilst still retaining their signature flair. The collection of songs on Villains is no different, which is surprising with Mark Ronson at the producing helm. Instead of encumbering QOTSA with a pop-funk infused feel, he strives to amplify QOTSA's rock ‘n’ roll aptitude by relinquishing barriers to make things – as Homme says – ‘seem like they were in front of you and behind you and all around you’; producing an extremely immersive, broad sound that QOTSA had begun to develop on …Like Clockwork.

Not unlike other records in the QOTSA canon, Villains follows its own formula to carve a strange, non-conceptual narrative into the listeners subconscious; a narrative that has a beginning, middle and end in terms of style and execution.  The album is constantly moving, there are no songs that constitute a ‘break’. Even the slow songs have their own indicative hook (almost always thanks to Shuman’s impeccable bass lines) that keeps you at walking pace even if you were running in the previous track (think the speed-rock ending of ‘The Evil Has Landed’ which transforms into the slow/mid-tempo ballad ‘Villains of Circumstance’).

From ballads (‘Fortress’, ‘Villains of Circumstance’) to 50s swing (‘The Way You Used to Do’), speed metal and punk rock (‘Head Like a Haunted House’); QOTSA somehow manage to traverse each genre with a semblance of ease that is sadly becoming unheard of in this current era of music. Luckily, we’ve still got bands like Queens of the Stone Age to show the rest of the music realm how it’s really done.  

If that wasn’t enough, nearly each track also contains an intro and/or an outro. ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’'s intro features a pinch of early Pink Floyd-esce psychedelia that runs for over a minute and a Bowie-inspired soundscape on ‘Domesticated Animals’. ‘Un-Reborn Again’ features a strangely menacing outro with fiddles and strings, whilst the closer ‘Villains of Circumstance’ ends rather abruptly compared to its counterparts.

Through Ronson’s production and the band’s ability to traverse a journey as complicated as this is, Villains harnesses what Homme is communicating through each track – the need to move. Through walking, running or dancing, Villains is a record that could keep running in circles and still retain a poignant message. 

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