Crooning and bruising
Queens of the Stone Age or QOTSA for ease of typing have been making albums for over twenty years now but lead singer and head honcho Josh Homme is only just the wrong side of forty. Does this show? Perhaps, they started out as a rock band with a tendency to boogie, now that ability to swing is more apparent and the singing is edging towards a crooning style that is not a little of the David Bowie about it. Villains was created under the influence of Mark Ronson, the producer who made Amy Winehouse a star with Back to Black and whose dance floor anthem Uptown Funk inspired Homme to bring him in and “make everything very tight with the air sucked out of it”. But rockers need not worry, this is not a dance album, there are tracks to which you might (just) be inclined to shake your booty but it won’t be airing in Ibiza any time soon.
The QOTSA sound is dominated by twin guitars of the filthy, fuzz toned, brash and intense variety, here they are corralled into the desired tightness quite effectively but this still doesn’t make it a summer hit contender. The opener Feet Don’t Fail Me starts quietly, very quietly, encouraging you to wind up the volume which gives the pounding beat considerable impact when it arrives, before long you are wondering why your neck hurts and realising that your head has been involuntarily banging away since the drums kicked in. The title is reminiscent of a Little Feat number and the groove has something of that band’s effortless boogie power, but with lyrics like “Life is hard that’s why no one survives” the vibe is very different indeed. The rhythm guitar chops are particularly inspired on this and the majority of the album, and the following number The Way You Used to Do is positively electric. A sort of T.Rex on acid except the voice is a long way from Bolan’s and Ronson makes sure it stays airtight throughout, there’s nothing loose but tight about it.
With Head Like a Haunted House Homme and his allies channel their punk tendencies with the most thrashing guitar on Villains, and yet this is not punk, it’s far too controlled. The sound may be the same but the precision is from another world. Un-reborn Again is far more successful especially if you like the early seventies Bowie sound sprinkled with lyrics that owe more to Bolan again. The chorus in particular could be from Young Americans, but that’s no bad thing in my book. If you’re going to find inspiration you might as well go to the top. Things get positively gothic for the slow start of Villains of Circumstance but one hears the hand of Ronson as this transforms into the nearest thing to pop you’ll find on this nine track album.
Villains is not a great sounding record in the usual sense of the word, there’s too much compression and treatment throughout but it does have moments of daylight and the bass is decently chunky at times. It’s more about losing yourself in the moment than enjoying the tone and there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?
– Jason Kennedy