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Album Review: Queens of the Stone Age ‘Villains’

Queens of the Stone Age are as rock and roll as they come in 2017, and while their latest album ‘Villains’ is a far cry from their roots, frontman Josh Homme holds everything together with his trademark wit, hip shaking rhythms, and unique vocal style.

The first minute of Villains teases with an intro reminiscent of their previous release, but where ‘…Like Clockwork’ throws you into a dark, gritty hellscape, opening track Feet Don’t Fail Me throws you onto the dance floor, because you’ve, “gotta move on.” If you’re not moving to the pumping bass or immediately chanting the chorus, you’re doing something wrong. With Josh singing, “one foot in the gutter, one in the clouds,” the track perfectly sets up the direction of the rest of the record; a groovy call to celebrate life from a man who already has experience of the alternative.

The rhythmic hedonism rolls on with the first single from the album, The Way You Used to Do. The song suffers from some irritating, scratchy guitar tones, but is otherwise a well-crafted love song that will grow on you whether you like it or not.

Queens keep the catchy momentum up with Domesticated Animals offering a staccato driven series of Homme-isms. “Beat the kids… to the punch,” “A revolution is one spin ‘round,” and, “you’ve got a heat, I’ll eat it for lunch,” are just some examples of Josh’s lyrical turns of phrase. Unfortunately, this song lives up to its name, and while enjoyable, is really the domesticated, tame cousin of their 2007 track I’m Designer. The song is further let down by a stale bridge you’re sure you’ve heard in another Queens song before, and although it powers through to a great conclusion, it starts to feel a little predictable.

The slight drag of familiarity isn’t helped on the track Fortress. As heartfelt as it may be, it’s again hard to escape comparisons to a QOTSA song from 2007, this time Into the Hollow. The song also relies a little too heavily on the metaphor offered in the title. Whether your fortress falls, caves, or is under siege, Josh Homme will be there to help. Un-Reborn Again also suffers from the curse of too-similar sounds, an issue made worse by the efforts in the rest of the song to mix things up. As much as anyone can appreciate a synth-led interlude or a cheeky reference to Georgia Satellites’ Keep Your Hands to Yourself, it doesn’t save the song from its musical clichés.

The band are quick to drag themselves out of this slump with the head-spinning Head Like a Haunted House. This time the raspy guitar tone is a perfect fit as the band channels Eagles of Death Metal to deliver a three-minute explosion of lyrics that could only come from Homme. The lines, “the a-b-c’s of leprosy,” “Xanadu’s and Xanadont’s,” and, “edumacate me, copulate me,” may not be the most necessary on the album, but they are the most fun.

After the disappointingly forgettable Hideaway, The Evil Has Landed sees the band achieving what it has set out to from the start. Fuzzy guitar leads, danceable grooves, head banging rock, and a killer outro. It’s six minutes of quintessential Queens, without feeling tired or boring.

What a shame it is, then, to close on Villains of Circumstance, a song first debuted as a heartfelt three-minute acoustic number, now rendered as a six-minute exploration of excess with a high hat heavy chorus that just won’t quit while it’s ahead. Is it a bad song? No. Is it hampered by the familiarity of previous tracks? No. But it’s held back by a band and producer who don’t know when to quit.

All in all, ‘Villains’ is a difficult album to draw a conclusion on. It’s a relatively cohesive album with a foot-stomping opener, and some genuinely great and creative moments, but it also drags and doesn’t know when to stop messing with a good thing. A sometimes disappointing, but still worthwhile listen.

Album Rating: 3.5