By Andrew Kelly
You could be easily forgiven for never having heard of Queens Of The Stone Age or it’s eclectic frontman, Josh Homme. But even if both of those names don’t ring a bell, you’ve probably heard something the high prince of desert rock has imbued with his magic touch, especially if you’re into any rock band after the 2000’s. He’s done everything from producing Arctic Monkey’s 3rd studio album, Humbug, along with providing backing vocals for 2 tracks on their most recent album AM, producing and playing guitar on Iggy Pop’s 2016 album Post Pop Depression, and even starring in supergroup Them Crooked Vultures with Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. Simply put, if there’s a rock artist from the 2000’s, there’s a good chance Homme has at least played a show with them. But while Homme may have contributed to some truly awesome music of others, he has his own amazing band by the name of Queens Of The Stone Age.
The Queens have made waves among rock music enthusiasts for their riff based, fuzz-laden brand of heavy rock, and their newest album Villains shouldn’t disappoint. But don’t let the “heavy” moniker turn you off of the band: In the words of frontman Homme, Queens are “Macho enough for the boys and poppy enough for the girls”. They’ve been around since 1997, but after all the lineup changes they’ve had throughout the years, Josh Homme, lead singer and guitarist, is the only founding member left in the band. In fact, Villains is the first album by the band to be recorded with the same core lineup as the previous one.
But enough introductions, how is the album, you might ask yourself? In short: Awesome. The songs are more heavy and riff based compared to the slower, more ballad-y album …Like Clockwork that preceded this one, but the heaviness has been imbued with a hip swinging, dancing groove that’s especially notable on songs like Feet Don’t Fail Me and The Way You Used To Do. But if you can’t dance, don’t fret. There’s also a good selection of hard hitting, heavy rocking tracks such as Head Like A Haunted House, which is reminiscent of 80’s post-punk bands like Dead Kennedys in its rapid, hard charging vocal delivery courtesy of Homme and its frantic, frenzied, rapid fire guitar riff.
There’s also The Evil Has Landed, which starts off with a Led-Zeppelin esque fuzzy blues riff which leads into a simple, power chord riff reminiscent of late 60’s garage bands like The Clash. But, truth be told, every track on this album pales in comparison to the album closer, Villains Of Circumstance. It starts out with a slow, ballady, simple acoustic lick that progresses into a bright Tears For Fears-esque chorus with Electric Guitars and Synthesizers. This all climaxes into the end, where it ascends into a manic, psychedelic sounding instrumental jam session. It also features some of Homme’s best lyrics to date, with tear jerkers such as “life moves on, that’s what scares me so” and “Close your eyes and dream me home, Forever mine, I’ll be forever yours”. I would go so far as to say that it’s one of the best songs the Queens have put out over their 19 year career, and most definitely their most well written song in the lyrical department.
As stated earlier, the album goes back to the tried-and-true Queens formula of fuzzy, riff based guitar music for the most part, however there’s still some cool new sonic elements introduced. For one, there’s some particularly cheesy sounding 80’s synths bought into the mix, but I feel like they provide a nice texture up against the raunchy, 70’s sounding fuzzy and crunchy guitars. Another first for the album is that it was produced in part by Mark Ronson, most famous for producing Bruno Mars’s chart-topping hit Uptown Funk. And while the idea of a pop producer producing a heavy rock album sounds like a match made in hell, it actually helps to make the sound of this new album stand out from the rest of the rock bands here today.
While most rock bands today drench every instrument in reverb and make each tom and snare drum sound like a chinese gong, Ronson imbues the new album with a vacuous, dry sound. Guitars have barely any reverb, and as a result sound a lot crisper and punchier. The bass parts also have a pleasant pop to them that could best be compared to the aforementioned Uptown Funk. And the drums, while a lot lower in the mix than I’d like, have a pleasant, immediate sound to them, which is a nice contrast from the aforementioned chinese gong sound that seems to be all the rage in rock music nowadays. And, of course, there’s Josh Homme’s almost-but-not-quite soft southern drawl, which provides a nice contrast against the gritty guitars and bass.
The thing I have to applaud Homme And Co. for doing is treading new ground in their sound. Most of the rock groups that were popular in the early to mid 2000’s have become shadows of their former selves, releasing derivative albums to minimal fanfare and struggling to sell out small clubs when they used to pack stadiums. Compare this to Queens, who are at the top of their game in terms of creativity and continue to grab headlining gigs at major music festivals. And, while some Queens fans who have been fans for a while may bemoan the cleaner production style or the lack of some of the older band members, I’m sure these same people would be complaining about them being “played out” and “derivative” if they continued to release albums that sounded exactly like 2002’s Songs For The Deaf. Josh Homme realizes the golden rule of music, that being that you will never please everyone, so to make music for anyone else than yourself is fool’s play, and his music is all the better for it. So how is the album? There are definitely some good tracks on here, but I feel like there are a couple “O.K” tracks that prevent the album from being a perfect 5/5. For this reason, I give it a solid 4 out of 5, and I would definitely recommend picking this album up or streaming it if you have even a passing interest in modern rock music.