It’s been four years since Queens of the Stone Age’s last album, …Like Clockwork, wonderfully rewrote the rules on what a QOTSA album could and should be. Lesson? There are no rules.
Now the band is back with a new record, Villains, that proves that point. Produced by Mark Ronson, full of synths, big vintage rock beats and Josh Homme’s heavy-sweet vocals, Villains is not what you expect, which is what you should expect from them by now. The album doesn’t arrive until Aug. 25, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a taste of what it’s all about right now…
Iggy Pop Was a Major Muse
You’ll hear the inspiration of the records Iggy Pop made in the late '70s with David Bowie’s help woven into the fabric of a couple of the rockers, but it was their time working with Iggy last year that had an even more direct effect. Listen close to the gorgeous “Hideaway” and you’ll hear hints of “Sunday” from Post Pop Depression, the weird, magical 2016 album Pop made with Homme and Queens guitarist Dean Fertita.
But the biggest take away was the point-of-view Homme got working so close to Pop. There’s no way to beat time, you just gotta ride shotgun: That’s what Homme concludes in American Valhalla, the documentary about the Post Pop Depression experience. And that sentiment comes up repeatedly on Villains. It’s a far cry from the “time wounds all heels” howl of Clockwork’s “I Sat by the Ocean.”
One Song References the Georgia Satellites…...
…And it’s pretty cool. “Un-Reborn Again” is a glam romp, stocked with wayward synths, but Homme slips in the seesawing “no hugging, no kissing until I get a wedding ring” line from the Georgia Satellites’ 1986 hit “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” with a giant wink.
Synths Are Deployed With Menace but Rock Prevails
Don’t get yourself in a twist about the fact that producer Mark Ronson, he of “Uptown Funk” etc, was hired to helm Villains. This is no typical slick Ronson confection, but the synths that pervade the album were brought to the sessions by Ronson. The synths temper the circa 1973 guitar crunch with ice-cold 1983 technology (see “Fortress”), but the guitars, and Homme’s voice itself, ultimately win the arm-wrestle.
The First Single Is About Homme’s Rocker Wife
“The Way You Used to Do,” which roared out to announce Villains in June, kicks off with Homme’s honeyed vocal crooning, “When I first met her she was 17," which would certainly be creepy coming from a 44-year-old man if it weren’t for the fact that he’s referring to the story of how he met his future wife. The story goes that 17-year-old Brody Dalle, then the frontwoman of an Aussie punk band, met 22-year-old Josh at Lollapalooza 1996 where he was the touring guitarist for Screaming Trees. They wouldn’t meet again for seven years, but she clearly left an impression. He, of course, went on to found Queens, and she would go on to the Distillers, Spinnerette and some really good solo work. They married in 2007 and have three kids.
You Can Already Hear Almost Five Songs
Can’t wait until Aug. 25? No sweat, there are plenty of bits of it drifting around for you to get a decent earful already. The single, “The Way You Used to Do” (see previous entry) is everywhere, of course, but the mysterious mini-clips the band has put on YouTube in recent weeks also contain bits of other songs. “Head Like a Haunted House” plays a front-and-center role in one of them and you can hear a chunk of the wah-wah punch of “Feet Don’t Fail Me” in the jokey promo video they released to announce the record.
“Villains of Circumstance,” the first Villains tune written, debuted way back in 2014 at a Homme solo show, albeit with a much more stripped-down arrangement than on the album. “The Evil Has Landed,” a multi-part opus, debuted live (see below) alongside “Used to Do” back in June.
It’s a Cousin of '…Like Clockwork' and Them Crooked Vultures…
…But also something completely new. If you came looking for old-school Queens from the turn of the millennium, you’re in the wrong place. Just as every album before has been a departure from the one before it, Villains stomps and slithers into new territory. You’ll catch glimpses of some of ...Like Clockwork’s groove (“Hideaway” has refrains reminiscent of “I Appear Missing”) and a bit of an earlier Queens flavor (“The Evil Has Landed” rave-up seems like a buddy of 2007’s “3’s and 7s”), and the guitar-led attitude feels like a relative of Them Crooked Vultures, Homme’s 2009 supergroup with Dave Grohl and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. But Villains ventures away into the lush, the menacing and the heartfelt, as well.
Get Ready to Strut More Than Dance
Homme’s openly mentioned how much he likes to dance and how he’s embracing that impulse on the new record. But where Clockwork offered up slabs of gritty rock-disco primed for ass-shaking, Villains is more like a badass strut on the wrong side of town. Falsetto, handclaps, fuzzed-out guitars — and yes, menacing synths — often swim around a backbeat that just won’t quit.