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Queens Of The Stone Age Villains

2017 Matador Records

A heroic effort.

Queens Of The Stone Age - Villains

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Given the uproar over pop producer/musician Mark Ronson‘s production involvement in the sessions, it’s probably for the best that Queens Of The Stone Age chose to largely record their seventh studio album “Villains” in relative secrecy. After all, it was that thin veil which allowed to them to fully pursue the promise of the unexpected union without having to factor in the second guessing of a few thousand snap judgments.

In a refreshing development, the band also chose to keep the public hungry, putting out a scant two tracks in the run-up to this album’s release—a rarity in today’s standardized promotional cycle. The first single, “The Way You Used To Do“, instantly struck a chord with some and a nerve with others.

With its elastic groove, infectious handclaps and big band styled tumbling drum parts clearly spelling out frontman Josh Homme‘s admiration for Cab Calloway and the like, this was surely to be expected.

But while its upbeat nature and whirring guitar tones aren’t uncommon throughout the album (“Feet Don’t Fail Me” also keeps the toes tapping,) it seems like it’s the spartan arrangements and beatcentric propulsion that showcase the influence of Ronson‘s direct input.

On the surface, “Villains” is very much a lean record. Homme himself had said he wanted to create something with the air sucked out of it and by all accounts he has succeeded.

It’s an impressive trick to pull off, as much of “Villains” almost feels skeletal upon first listen. The nuts and bolts of the rhythm section are in full display as each instrument swoops in and out. It’s a very beat driven adventure that feels at odds with some of the more ornate and grandiose aspects of the band’s past output.

Indeed, you’d be hard pressed to find much in the way of a wasted note on “Villains” as the minimalist nature suggests a healthy diet of krautrock. But therein lies the genius of Homme and co. as the more you listen, the more you are able to pick out the subtle interplay and instrumental accoutrements.

The air of relative simplicity that shrouds the sharply orchestrated songwriting is all part of the illusion. It’s also what allows lingering notes to have a lasting impact and the occasional synth like part to emerge so triumphantly. But while the implementation may be a touch austere, the emotional depth of Homme still radiates across a vibrant gamut of emotions.

Fortress“, which is said to have been written about Homme‘s daughter, is a heartwarming display of vulnerability and solidarity that at times feels as though he’s lost adrift an endless ocean—or at least on the other side of the world in a tour bus.

Head Like A Haunted House” is a cagey freak-out of skronky guitars and kitschy backing vocals (is that a theremin?) that recalls a more innocent era of rock n’ roll being introduced to mescaline and muscle cars a decade or so early.

The unrelenting forward momentum of “Hideaway” doesn’t sound unlike a more blissful/less anarchic Talking Heads performing aboard some bizarro luxury cruise.

The cavernous acoustics of the bass-driven album closer “Villains Of Circumstance” are where the band take the biggest plunge into the weird. It’s certainly the track where they let it all hang out the most, slowly building momentum and gaining mass not unlike a snowball rolling down a hill.

An interesting quality of the album—one that seemingly comes from Ronson‘s input (Mark Rankin was also involved in the production)—is how key the rhythm section is throughout it. The bass and drums are the clear workhorses here and the lush warmth of the drums alone are reference material worthy for future generations.

Queens Of The Stone Age have never been a band to back away from the unknown and while teaming with Ronson may represent that on the surface, “Villains” still stands quite proudly amongst the band’s diverse catalog—especially following directly after the weight and mire of the emotionally anchored “…Like Clockwork“. Inarguably it still retains the swagger and rollicking groove of some of the group’s finer efforts.

True, it’s not likely to dethrone fan favorite “Songs For The Deaf“, but its concise nature and irresistible momentum are worthy of praise. Despite being 20 years deep, with “VillainsHomme and his band of sonic outlaws have crafted a meaningful album rich with gritty hard-won texture.

One that proudly displays the craftsmanship and charm of having exposed structural supports visibly present throughout cleverly accessible songwriting and mesmerizing atmosphere.

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