Encroaching upon the 20th anniversary of their debut album, Queens of the Stone Age releases their grooviest, catchiest, and poppiest project yet.
During my sophomore year in high-school, a good friend of mine introduced me Kyuss with the album Welcome To Sky Valley. The sounds that emanated from this album came to define the entire Palm Desert Rock Scene of the late 90’s. The droney and groovie guitar and bass riffs coupled with the heavy and steady beats, produced a psychedelic sound like no other. 23 years after that record, the guitar player from Kyuss made Villains with his new band, Queens of the Stone Age. If you went back and showed a 16 year old me Villians and told me that the guitar player of Kyuss made this album, I would’ve never believed you. How could someone from one of the heaviest bands in the world make a pop album? I don’t have the answer to this question, but it happened. And it is good.
Villians kicks off with the two grooviest tracks ever released by Queens of the Stone Age.
“Feet Don’t Fail Me” starts o ff with the eerie ambient sounds of distorted guitar slides; which is very reminiscent of the middle section of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused”. Around the 20 second mark, a faint drum beat appears and gets louder and louder. Soon afterward, the beat is accompanied by a sinister guitar and synth melody that drive the build up. The song continues to build up and finally blooms into a dance groove just before the 2 minute mark. Beautifully layered on of this dance groove are guitar and synth riffs that drive the song forward. As a supplement to the groove, Josh Homme channels his inner late 70’s David Bowie and delivers a positive message about not stopping despite life’s hardships.
“The Way You Used To Do” opens with a lone heavily fuzzed guitar riffing on a singular G note to a faster pace and swing dance beat. This lone guitar is soon joined by two other heavily distorted guitars layered on top. Once the chorus hits, minor chord tirades and arpeggios replace single note riffage to portray a more sinister setting. Just as in the previous song, all instrumentation seems to be following the guitars. On top of all the instrumentation Josh Homme delivers (in a cool manner reminiscent of rockabilly artists in the 50’s like Eddie Cochran) a love song for his wife.
Queens of the Stone Age diverge from the dance friendly beats with the next two tracks on the album.
The song “Domesticated Animals” is Queens of the Stone Age’s first major political commentary. Josh Homme delivers such lyrics as “You get right up, and sit back down. A revolution is one spin round” and “All for one, all for naught. Perish baby, perish the thought” as the villain that the rebels in question are conspiring against. He delivers these lyrics in the cool, Bowie-esque demeanor of the first song, but is aided by a screaming vocalist in the last chorus. It is a bit ironic that Josh Homme sings from the perspective of the villain since his style has never been considered conventional. Adding to the irony, Queens of the Stone Age plays the song in the rare 7/8 time signature, with occasional switches back to the common 4/4 time. Much like the previous tracks on this album, all the instrumentation follows the sinister sounding guitar riff.
Queens of the Stone Age diverts from their previous formula in making “Fortress”. They constructed the instrumentation around the vocal melody for this Ballad. Written for his daughter, Josh Homme warns her about facing adversity and comforts her with “If ever your fortress caves, you’re always safe in mine.” A guitar and gothic synth driven instrumental track emphasizes the melancholic vocal melody.
After teasing it in the first four tracks, Queens of the Stone Age finally explores the horror influences with the next three tracks.
“Head Like A Haunted House” seems to be a tribute to the sub-genre of Horror Punk. It has a very sinister rockabilly punk sound, which builds a very frantic atmosphere around the track. This matches the lyrical content of the track, which seems to be about the protagonist attempting an escape from the mental asylum. His “head’s like a haunted house”, but he believes that it is a misdiagnoses. He then tries to fight his way out, but he gets caught and is forced to “drink the kool-aid and swallow the pill”.
The next track, “Un-Reborn Again”, is a cautionary tale against the pursuit of youth. Backed up by sinister sounding synths and guitars, Josh Homme sings of the heavy price of attempting to remain youthful. He lists the self-destructive acts committed by people in the pursuit of youth, then introduces a contrasting inspirational melody for the pre-chorus about the goal of youth. This is further contrasted with a darker melody for the chorus, warning of the dark consequences.
“Hideaway” returns to the concept of singing from the villains perspective. The eerie gothic synth melody at the opening of the track, sets the sinister gothic setting of the track. Adding to the atmosphere of the track are the predatory, seemingly vampiric romance portrayed in the lyrics. Throughout most of the track, the narrator calls out to their prey, the hideaway. The hideaway wishes to feel love, which the narrator is willing to provide at a heavy price. At the end of the track, the narrator thwarts expectation and asks, “Who needs love?” As a result, this implies that the narrator only sees love as a manipulative tool to use against the hideaway.
The fast paced “The Evil Has Landed” provides an explosive break in the album, while the intimate “Villains of Circumstance” provides the emotional closing to this album.
“The Evil Has Landed” is my favorite track on this album, possibly my favorite track Queens of the Stone Age has ever produced. The best way I can describe the track is if Led Zeppelin wrote “Black Dog” amidst the new wave explosion in the late 70’s and early 80’s. From the dangerous opening riff to the aggressive punk closing riff, Queens of the Stone Age bring copious amounts of energy to this track. As a result, it creates the perfect grooving diversion between two slow paced melancholy tracks. Juxtaposing the explosive instrumental track, Josh Homme calmly delivers a message about enjoying life. He sings about “going on a living spree”, asking the audience to come along.
Juxtaposed after “The Evil Has Landed”, “Villains of Circumstance” serves as a consequence to the previous track. It seems that the narrator from the previous track regrets going on his “Living Spree”. The narrator seems plagued with thoughts of life moving on and fears losing his loved one. The eerie instrumental track greatly emphasizes this fear. This is soon contrasted with a faster paced uplifting chorus, where the narrator asks his lover to “close your eyes and dream me home.” Ending on an energetic buildup around the B minor chord, “Villains of Circumstance” provides the sinister ending this album needed.
In my opinion, this is Queens of the Stone Age’s best album to date.
It may not be their most avant-garde, ambitious, or consistently themed release, but it was definitely their grooviest. Mark Ronson showcases his skills acting as the producer of this album. He replaced Queens of the Stone Age’s darker sound for a brighter, more aggressive tone, and it works for the most part. There are some moments where the punchiness of the bass clouds up the mix or the instrumental tracks aren’t spaced out enough, but it all works very well in the end. The non-streamlined production of this album give it a more raw feel. In conclusion, this is a great album. As Josh Homme sings, “We’re all a little tangled, corroded, and mangled… but I’m for letting go.” “You don’t wanna miss your chance” to go on this “Near life experience.”
Best Tracks: “Feet Don’t Fail Me”, “Un-Reborn Again”, “The Evil Has Landed”, and “Villains of Circumstance”
Worst Track: “Hideaway”