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Queens Of The Stone Age Reinvent Themselves on VILLAINS (Review)

Queens Of The Stone Age Reinvent Themselves on VILLAINS (Review)

In the universe of Queens of the Stone Age, the only constant is change. They keep one foot firmly planted in rock ‘n’ roll while pivoting into new styles and tones. It’s not dressed up or overblown, it’s just the right amount of swagger, sex, and sizzle. With Villains, the band’s seventh studio album, there’s a heavy influence on upbeat, danceable tempos. Frontman Josh Homme’s recent work with Iggy Pop on the stellar Post Pop Depression has clearly helped channel a new sound for the band as they ease into their legacy status. It’s a sexy record that wants you to shake your hips and bang your head. Those two things need not be mutually exclusive.

This album showcases one of Queens of the Stone Age’s greatest strengths: adaptability. As a band, they have evolved over the years while still keeping their core sound intact. Villains is firmly rooted in the band’s history; the riffs and harmonies on tracks like “Feet Don’t Fail Me” and “The Evil Has Landed” are vintage Queens. Heavy, guitar driven numbers find a rhythm and drive endlessly throughout Villains, but the record manages to sound like nothing the band has ever done before. It’s bigger, confidently filled with more hooks and harmonies than Homme has ever managed.

Perhaps this is related to the band’s first ever collaboration with producer Mark Ronson. Though Ronson usually brings a recognizable sound to his collaborations, his trademark vibes are muted here, allowing the band to explore funkier ideas on their own terms. If you are worried that Queens of the Stone Age would be delivering an “Uptown Funk” redux, rest easy, that’s not the case. There are some funky jams on this record though: lead single “The Way You Used To Do” is a stuttering guitar jam filled with hand claps and an upswing beat. But Queens of the Stone Age have always had an ear for grooves. For every “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” there was a “Make it Wit Chu” or “Leg of Lamb.” The only difference is that on Villains, Homme and crew are leaning hard into that groove. There are less stoner desert riffs, but more overt greaser attitude and Elvis inspired snarls.

Lyrically, this is Josh Homme at his dreamiest; his usual affinity for puns and darkness has given way to spacier musings. Instead of lyrics like “if ignorance is bliss then I’m in heaven now” we get “you could be young again, frozen in pose.” Perhaps Homme maxed out on shtick during Era Vulgaris because Villains relies less on humor and wit in song construction. When Homme croons “if ever your fortress caves, you’re always safe in mine,” you can feel him tapping into something new. But on the next track, “Head Like a Haunted House,” we get the line “with Xanadus and Xanadon’ts” which is 100% Queens of the Stone Age cheese.

There’s room to try something new while still peppering in what we’ve always loved about the band. “Fortress” sounds like a Bowie tribute. You can hear his influence in the guitar tones all throughout the album. The distortion is dialed back and spacier reverb and flangers take prominence along with icy synths. Homme also sings more than ever before. Previous records brought in guests, like frequent collaborator Mark Lanegan, to contribute harmonies, but Homme handles them himself here. Lanegan’s dark, brooding melodies are replaced with Homme’s high end and falceto. It gives the whole thing an upbeat ‘70s dance feel.

Villians sounds very little like any of Queens of the Stone Age’s previous records. It doesn’t have the stoner jams of Rated R or the hard edge of Songs for the Deaf, maybe signaling that the band has no interest in repeating themselves. Instead, we’re getting Queens of the Stone Age filtered through a ‘60s or 70’s kaleidoscope. In dark times, we don’t need an onslaught of angry riffs, we need to dance. Queens of the Stone Age get that.

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