Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains (Matador)


Queens Of The Stone Age serve up their seventh album with plenty of crunching riffs, but throw a spanner in the works to keep things interesting.

That spanner comes in the form of producer Mark Ronson, the Uptown Funkster known for his work with Amy Winehouse, Bruno Mars and Adele. Ronson might not seem like an obvious choice as a collaborator, but bandleader Josh Homme like to challenge himself and his audience. The end result could be something utterly new and exciting or a watered-down, mish-mash of sounds. On Villains, the end result falls somewhere in the middle.

Homme is coming off one of his most successful ventures. I’m not referring to the previous QOTSA album, but rather, last year’s Iggy Pop long player, Post Pop Depression, which, in my mind, was one of 2016’s finest.

Iggy and Homme, now that’s a combination I can get behind. And sure enough, they deliver the goods.

Villains’ opening track, Feet Don’t Fail Me, is a continuation of that collaboration. Homme has described it as the song that “would have been the 10th song on Post Pop Depression”.

It begins with a clang, a bit of distortion, throbbing noise and beating drum and scratching guitar. As the track builds, an 80s-style synth joins the mix, no doubt Ronson’s input, and just before the two-minute mark, the band fully kicks in with a tasty QOTSA riff.

“I was born in the desert, May 17, in 73”, howls Homme with the autobiographical lyric that ultimately addresses Josh’s connection to music. The push and pull, the tension between guitars and synths seems to be working well here.

The Way You Used To Do follows and it proves to be one of the Queens’ finest tracks ever. Clearly Homme’s songwriting chops are still strong, and Ronson’s poppy handclaps help propel the tune to greatness.

So far, so good.

But then things start to get muddy.

Domesticated Animals features another big riff, but it feels a bit ponderous, and the strings that peak through the mix seem unnecessary.

Fortress follows and it doesn’t really connect, although it tried with a last-minute blaze of guitars

Head Like A Haunted House is a rare short track on the album…most of the nine cuts clock in at 5 to 6 minutes…and it rocks hard and fast, with plenty of punk energy.

For Un-born Again, Homme and co channel Marc Bolan and T-Rex, for what sounds like a very close “tribute” to Telegram Sam…with a brief lyrical nod to The Georgia Satellites thrown in for good measure.

Hideaway is a slinky ballad, with Homme declaring, “I’m all dressed up, no one left to blow”.

The Evil Has Landed is the second truly great song on the album, although the guitars sound overly compressed, taking some of the power away from the performance. When they played this tune live in Auckland recently, it really rocked. Here, it sounds like it has been sonically neutered.

Finally, the album winds down with Villains Of Circumstance, an ambitious track that eventually gets bogged down in its own aspirations.

So, while I admire Josh Homme for sticking his neck out and working with someone like Mark Ronson, a part of me wishes he would just admit to himself that QOTSA are a great guitar band and leave it at that.

There are a few instances where Ronson’s input works, but more often than not, he just gets in the way. Let those guitars rock!

Marty Duda