Josh Homme is a man that doesn’t give a shit. And it’s because of this that his project Queens of the Stone Age has been so consistently good. Each of its albums has followed his vision, with him making decisions that might seem questionable on paper but always seem to work out… Evidence of this isn’t too hard to find – the band’s first hit, fittingly titled ‘Feel Good Hit Of The Summer’, comprised of Homme chanting the names of different drugs over and over again.
When it was announced that Villains would take Queens of the Stone Age’s sound in a more danceable direction, I will admit that I was slightly nervous. (Especially considering that the album was following up …Like Clockwork, a particularly dark and moody release.) But, as always, Josh Homme knows what’s best. Villains isn’t just danceable – at times, at least – but it’s also incredibly creative and as emotionally open as QOTSA has ever been.
Despite having only nine tracks, the album is almost 50 minutes long – with many of the songs ditching traditional structures in favour of surprising twists and turns. It’s on these tracks – like ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’ and ‘Domesticated Animals’ – that Villains is at its best. ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’ opens the album with a slow, indulgent build up. Chanting vocals dominate the first minute before the drums kick in and the song springs to life. The song shifts and changes in tone frequently, somehow managing to come across as dance-y while maintaining the band’s desert rock roots. There’s an almost improvised feel to Homme’s lyrics – a lot of them don’t really connect together – that suggests he’s following his feet rather than his head.
The lyrics on ‘Domesticated Animals’ equally feel confused, but it doesn’t stop the track from being impressive. As its title suggests, it has a wild, almost feral feel to it (Homme even lets off a woof in the track’s opening). Like ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’, the song takes its time, chugging along steadily before abruptly exploding halfway through. The track’s sound ties in well with the lyrics’ central theme of tame animals breaking free; there’s an underlying fierceness to the song even its quieter moments, with its ‘wild’ side breaking out only in places. ‘The Evil Has Landed’ is another track that benefits from its long length, taking a number of great instrumental detours. Similarly to ‘Domesticated Animals’, it’s a lot of fun – Homme sounds like he’s having a ball singing on this one – refusing to go anywhere predictable.
Villains’ less heavy songs are no less impressive though, with ‘Fortress’ perhaps being the most moving song that Queens of the Stone Age have ever put out. The central metaphor, about how we all build emotional fortresses (hiding our true feelings), is a great one and the vocals really sell it. Knowing that Homme wrote the song for his daughter just makes the song tug at my heartstrings even more – it’s a truly gorgeous ballad. And while I wouldn’t have expected synths to fit in with QOTSA’s sound well at all, they really add something to the track. ‘Villains of Circumstance’, the album’s closer, is another great slow number. It matches ‘Fortress’ for emotional intensity, featuring some of the band’s most unabashedly romantic lyrics: ‘Forever mine, I’ll be forever yours’.
A few of the album’s other songs do feel comparatively weak to these high points, but nothing comes close to being outright bad or even mediocre. Lead single ‘The Way You Used To Do’ is as poppy as the band have ever been – you can really feel Mark Ronson’s production on it – but it still feels distinctively Queens of the Stone Age with its abrasive guitars. Its main problem is that it feels a little bit conventional and uninteresting compared to the rest of the album. ‘Un-Reborn Again’ and ‘Hideaway’ are both solid, though do get lost in the album a bit. They’re just not quite as memorable as some of the album’s other cuts.
As a whole, Villains is an incredibly balanced and focused effort from Queens of the Stone Age; there’s a lot less filler than some of the band’s previous releases and even the weaker moments are hard not to love. (‘The Way You Used To Do’ is still going on just about every party playlist I make this year…) More than anything, it shows that even seven albums in Josh Homme knows how to keep things exciting and unpredictable. I can’t think of a more consistent rock band around today.
Best Tracks: ‘Domesticated Animals’, ‘Fortress’, ‘The Evil Has Landed’