When Queens Of The Stone Age announced their seventh studio album would be produced by ‘Uptown Funk’ hitmaker Mark Ronson, a few eyebrows were raised. Were Josh Homme’s gang of rock’n’roll punishers stepping into safer, more chart-friendly territory?
The answer is, obviously, no. Much like Ronson’s work with garage-punk wildcards Black Lips, he’s not so much messed with their sound as helped them add a new dimension to it. Where last record …Like Clockwork felt sprawling and expansive, Villains is tighter, punchier and more direct (ironically, most of its songs are far longer than those on its predecessor). Homme has spoken of the desire to capture his seizing the moment philosophy in the songs, telling NME it was like “urgency without an emergency”.
As soon as ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’ rips into life after a steadily building, ominous intro, you can feel that. “Life is hard, that’s why no one survives/I’m much older than I thought I’d be,” purrs Homme over Troy Van Leeuwen and Dean Fertita’s zipping guitars and Michael Shuman’s oompah bassline. ‘Head Like A Haunted House’ is a haphazard, glam-rock groover that both features a comical barf sound effect and deals with issues of mental health at a pace similar to when your mind feels like it’s really beginning to unravel.
Fittingly for a band who are, save for 32-year-old Shuman, all in their forties, Villains deals with more introspective, mature issues than their early records took on. ‘Un-Reborn Again’ finds them contemplating aging, Homme singing of being “buried so close to the fountain of youth I can almost rage” and being “locked up in amber eternally.” ‘Fortress’ tackles having to do things you don’t want to in a bid to stay true to someone, but offers undying support to whoever Homme is singing to (“If ever your fortress caves, you’re always safe in mine”).
It’s the closing song, ‘Villains Of Circumstance’, that has the biggest impact, though. First debuted by Homme during a solo set at London’s Meltdown Festival in 2015, here it’s more fleshed out than that sparse acoustic performance, but the instrumentation is still used (mostly) sparingly, like when the frontman is crooning “I need you now, nothing is real”. Then, it bursts into a bright ray of light, promises to “be forever yours” and a galloping drum beat to carry the whole thing off into the distance, like a Hollywood hero whisking away his one true love as the curtains fall on the closing credits. Much like the rest of the record, it’s an effortless masterclass in making meaningful rock music and keep Queens right at the top of their game.