Album Review: Queens of the Stone Age, “Villains”
by Daniel Baier
Praise be to the Queens. The newest album from Queens of the Stone Age, Villains, comes off as possibly one of their strongest ever. For many bands, sustaining a sound over a long period of time is something out of a fever dream, but for QOTSA, it seems to be their legacy. Since their first studio album in 1998, the band from Palm Desert, CA has not only kept their unique sound but fine-tuned it into something instantly recognizable to any who have heard it before.
Headed by Josh Homme, QOTSA were formed in 1996, after Homme’s stoner rock group, Kyuss, broke up. They were given their name, Queens of the Stone Age, in 1997, and in 1998, released their debut self-titled album. Right off the bat, they were working with rock legends, such as Matt Cameron of Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters founder Dave Grohl. Over time, the band grew more and more into their distinct hard-yet-emotional rock sound, and now with Villains, seem to have truly mastered their craft.
Homme has always been careful with keeping his band’s sound the same, yet always working to make it better, and keeping it serious. “We have the luxury of having found a sound that’s ours, but by the seventh record, if you’re not careful, that’s parody, and you end up a cartoon character on the wall,” Homme said in an interview with Beats 1’s Zane Lowe. Because of this concern with becoming a bland parody of himself, leading to work with star producers, such as Mark Ronson, who produced Villains.
The only issue I have with Villains is that the band doesn’t seem to be taking any risks, and it sounds like it could easily be just a continuation of …Like Clockwork. However, that problem I have with it can also be seen as a huge upside, as the band hasn’t sacrificed its identity to try and grab popularity in a somewhat rock-starved music industry.
Musically, this album goes ballistic. Listeners can feel Homme’s emotion with every lyric he utters, with every painful message he shares with his children. QOTSA really turned on the afterburners for this album, ramping up the intensity over any other record they’ve put out. There are a number of songs on this album that are a bit more meaningful than we’ve seen in the past, such as “Fortress” and “Villains of Circumstance.” Both of these songs appear to hold great meaning for Homme, especially “Fortress,” which seems to be an ode to his children, stating they can always come to him when hard times come around.
“Villains of Circumstance,” on the other hand, is a slow track reminiscent of Nick Cave. Eerily enough, the song seems like a post-mortem ballad to anyone who remembers him. Homme sings “Close your eyes, and dream me home / Forever mine, I’ll be forever yours.” The lyric sounds like someone is dreaming him alive, back from the dead, until the dreamer wakes up again and loses Homme for another day.
These songs, however, are footnotes to the desert rock mastery of songs such as “Head Like a Haunted House,” whose fast-paced tempo and piercing vocals are sure to make it a crowd favorite on QOTSA’s upcoming tour. Beneath this veil, however, “Head Like a Haunted House” appears to be a song about a lack of individuality in a society that has a habit to simply “Drink the kool-aid and swallow the pill.” Homme states that he will fight back against this society and blaze his own train, even if he is brought down in the process.
But as is normal with a Queens of the Stone Age album, there’s the one big hit. Every album has it. From “No One Knows” on Songs for the Deaf, to “Burn the Witch” on Lullabies to Paralyze, all the way through “I Sat By The Ocean” off of …Like Clockwork, each QOTSA album has that one memorable song. On Villains, that song just so happens to be the first released single, “The Way You Used To Do.” Homme stated in the same Zane Lowe interview that he refused to listen to the song for a year and a half, fearing he would get sick of it. Based on the track, it’s easy to see why. The song is as close to perfection the band has ever reached, from the electrifying riffs to the swinging vocals, and would be a hit song of the year, if the market weren’t so focused on pop and hip-hop.
The album as a whole feels like one of the stronger performances from the band in recent memory, certainly since Lullabies to Paralyze. Who knows what the future holds for Josh Homme and Queens of the Stone Age, but if they can possibly improve on this work, then we ought to get ready for something special.
8/10. Strongly recommend.
Reach the writer: @DanboLax