Queens of the Stone Age have returned in a big way with the release of their seventh studio album. The album may be called Villains, Queens of the Stone Age are alternative rock heroes. Anticipation has been high for the album. Considering the unprecedented success of the band’s 2013 album, the chart-topping …Like Clockwork, you’d forgive Queens main man Josh Homme and his band of musical brothers if they succumbed to the pressure. Thankfully for all involved, that is not the case.
Produced by Mark Ronson, the album serves as the next logical step in the continuing evolution of Queens of the Stone Age. Never a band to play by the rules; in fact, a band that ignores all the rules. There feels like a real lack of bands subscribing to this mantra in our current musical climate. Ronson doesn’t seem like a logical choice for producer but that is exactly why he is. It’s unexpected. Just like Queens’ rise to critical heights. Queens of the Stone age were once a great kept secret of the musical underground. But due to the lost art of keeping a secret, Queens had no choice but to rise to the top of the crop.
“The Way You Used To Do”, the first single from the album served as a sonic springboard to raise hype and get fans excited. But rather than just being excited because it’s the new song, the song is great. The track is a call to arms for anyone in need of a great song. Homme’s usual falsetto is in full effect as is his undeniable ability to croon with the best of them on the chorus. A real feel good hit for the summer time.
Queens of the Stone Age have a history of releasing strong first singles for their albums. “No One Knows” and “Little Sister” being two that jump out. Songs For The Deaf and Lullabies To Paralyze, “ both benefitted greatly from their lead single; both of which set the stage for their respective albums. However, “The Way You Used To Do” is a bit of a curve in that while sonically there are benchmarks revisited from that song throughout the album, this album is more varied and fluid and not as boxed in.
“The Evil Has Landed” is classic Queens of the Stone Age. Yet it doesn’t sound like “The Way You Used To Do”. That song had me thinking there was going to be a very specific theme in terms of sound for this album; I was wrong. You can’t deny the influence and even impact of working with Mark Ronson for the first time. His pop tendencies are not completely foreign to Homme and company. Homme has an innate ability to write a hook that demands you nod your head; or a melody you can’t help but hum.
But in that collaboration, is where this album finds its true life. Queens are not repeat offenders. They could go with the flow, but where’s the fun in that? They’ve scoffed at doing it in the past and again chose to forgo the easy route of riding the coattails of their previous album and create a ….Like Clockwork: Part II. Villains is rich in variety but its familiarity is comforting. Queens’ could make a polka-jazz fusion album and it would sound like Queens of the Stone Age because regardless the genre, their sound is installed deep within them. In fact a polka-jazz-fusion album by them would be awesome; if only they’d consider that, it would help to cement this point.
There are no guests this time around. No Dave Grohl. No Mark Lanegan. But it’s not Homme and a couple regular johns. While Homme may be the face and voice of Queens, the band is comprised of long time guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, along with multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita, bassist Michael Shuman, and drummer Jon Theodore. The album benefits from the cohesion of the same core lineup from their previous album and tour. The lead vocals are all provided by Homme. It’s a delight to hear how he has matured into a confident, powerful singer throughout the years. His voice is his stronger than ever on this collection of songs.
From the first line in fantastic album opener, “Feet Don’t Fail Me”, its clear Homme has brought it. The guitars jangle, the rhythm section swings and Homme brings it all together. Albums with strong openers always tend to be prophetic signs of what’s to come. Case in point here. Rather than just write meaningless songs for the sake of it, Homme chooses his lyrics well. No one needs another love song And Homme is at his best when his lyrics have a mysterious edge to them. Nothing is spelled right out for you. But his lyrics aren’t of such an obscure nature the listener can’t relate.
The overall best aspect of Villains is that we get another record from a great rock band; one of the few remaining. The fact that Queens have again risen the bar of their own high standards is inspiring. No one knows if we will continue to see great rock bands continue to develop and rise to the standards rock fans deserve. Rock and alternative music is struggling to create new heroes. Compared to a time in the 90’s when it seemed like they were falling from the sky, the same can’t be said for nowadays. At a time when a lot of bands are content to be on autopilot, Queens of the Stone Age are the rare exception. They proved their ability to make a strong album. And then do it again. But on a different level all while keeping true to who they are at their core is what is most impressive about Villains.