(Photo: The excellent album artwork for Queens Of The Stone Age album, “Villains.” Designed by artist Boneface, image courtesy of Consequence of Sound.)
After 4 years, Queens Of The Stone Age (QOTSA) are back with their danciest, funkiest album yet, “Villains.” “Villains” follows “…Like Clockwork,” an album where QOTSA sounded their most mature and their most moody. It was stunningly produced, well composed, and deeply dark. “Villains” is a big shift. “Villains” might be QOTSA at their most immature, wild, and fun.
Based on the album’s background, the change was by the band’s design. In a strange move, the band brought in Mark Ronson (of “Uptown Funk” fame) to produce “Villains.” Ronson might seem like an odd fit, but he and QOTSA frontman Josh Homme had long admired each other’s work. Homme knew he wanted to work with Ronson when he heard “Uptown Funk” and Ronson calls QOTSA his “favorite rock band of this era.” It is a surprising but natural partnership.
Ronson does a great job on the production of the album too. He does not take away a lot of feedback and distortion – something that adds a fitting fuzzy grunge to QOTSA’s sound – yet at the same time he cleans up the songs so the band’s grooviness shines through.
“The Way You Used To Do” is a great example of Ronson’s skilled mixing. It starts off with an incredibly lucid guitar riff and a hand clap as snappy and clean as you’ll hear in any pop song. As the song goes on the fuzzier, thicker elements arrive in form of the rhythm from the bass and drums. What Ronson does well is capture the classic roughness in QOTSA’s sound – the speedy strings, the scratchy noises – while also making the song’s groove sound as neat and distinct as in a Carly Rae Jepsen track.
“The Way You Used To Do” also has a distinct pop format as it moves from bridge to chorus in an easy, predictable way while not losing dramatic drum fills and rising guitar riffs characteristic of QOTSA. That kind of composition makes “Villains” QOTSA’s grooviest, danciest album yet. For QOTSA, that’s not an unfitting change because the band has always had strong grooves (see “3’s & 7’s”, “Smooth Sailing”, or “No One Knows”).
“Villains” is also a richly varied album. “Head Like a Haunted House” has a rapid-fire but simple and super fun to follow beat that makes it downright Ramones-like. On the other hand “Fortress” is a slow and sweet song with an angelic chorus and a soothing backbeat. “The Evil Has Landed” feels quintessentially QOTSA in how it lets off-kilter guitar riffs dance with eerie rhythms in a way that feels poly-rhythmic at points.
However, “Villains” is not quite perfect. Not all songs on the album sound memorable or worth replaying. “Villains of Circumstance” and “Un-Reborn Again” feel forgettable and drag on a bit too long. The album also feels much less coherent and tightly thematic as “…Like Clockwork” did. While the album starts off with tight transitions, towards the middle the songs do not work as well together. The worst moment is when the punk momentum from “Head Like A Haunted House” totally drains after six minutes of slow and heavy sludge in “Un-Reborn Again.”
Overall, “Villains” is a very strong album – a 4 out of 5-star performance. In it, QOTSA tries out a new sound and style while still holding true to the core of the band, and they create some gems that fans should hold onto for a long time. Extra points for that album cover too; it captures the visceral but fun, villainous but delightful feeling of the album perfectly.