Queens Of The Stone Age - Villians
- Released: 25 August 2017
- Label: Matador
Engaging 7th album from the Queens, exploring a new sound with producer Mark Ronson.
Some of us seem to run a straight track in our lives. We go to school and Uni. Choose a career and stick to it. Get married and have kids. Watch Netflix. Others seem to meander throughout live, pursuing different directions as opportunities reveal themselves, some seeming to build a story that becomes clear and seemingly inevitable in retrospect, some just swimming in circles edging ever close to the drain. Age (and morality) seems irrelevant to this process, with many people drastically changing career path in their 40s, 50s and even later (Trump became president at 70 but has maintained the thread of being an unsavoury character his whole life).
In musical terms, we have bands like the Ramones, who dedicated themselves to a single sound, the ecstasy of power-chords rapidly belted out at top speed with simple lyrics shouted over the top.
We can contrast that with the chameleons and shape-shifters like David Bowie, who started off as a folk signer, found fame with glam rock, helped pioneer electronica and constantly evolved and changed in both terms of persona and sound. It seems easier to divide Bowie's career into distinct eras than as a single thread.
Which brings us onto Villains, an album that seems to signify a new start for the Queens, a break with tradition and an embracing of ... well not the new exactly, but at least something newer than stoner rock.
In order to change up the dynamic, QOTSA enlisted the help of Mark Ronson, a move few would have predicted. Josh explains why in a quote from Rolling Stone: "If you listen to "Uptown Funk", you hear that tight, kind of vacuous dry sound, and that's where I wanted to take this new Queens record". And indeed, the album embodies that sound - the drums are tight and snappy, right at the front of the mix. Guitar is equally tight, often staccato, perhaps cleaner and less layered than other QOTSA records, but still with plenty of grit and gain.
Despite Joshua's insistence that he wanted to make music to dance to, the rhythm and intensity of songs is constantly being played with, seemingly undermining this goal. The "dance" influence doesn't mean they've taken onboard the angular sound of Franz Ferdinand or the synths of Joy Division (as oft QOTSA collaborator Mark Lanegan has). Perhaps the closest touchstone is the Eagles Of Death Metal, but whilst Villains may have moments of playfulness, it doesn't have the same feelgood party sound of EODM, opting instead to try to make a more serious statement.
The opening songs rock out, and embody the "dance" attitude, which is also reflected in the lyrics "feel like a fool/a dancing fool/footloose and fancy free". Other moments, such as Fortress, sound closer to the sort of thing that was found on Iggy Pop's Post Pop Depression. Perhaps the finest point on the album is found right at the end, on the dark and slow ballad Villians Of Circumstance. Whilst not illustrative of the rest of the album, it benefits from the deft production values of Ronson, creating an accomplished and moving moment to end the album.
The new sound works well, but a lack of big hit singles mean that it's not destined to be classic. It does sound like a pointer to something new, to be followed up with more inventive albums and perhaps other collaborators.
So is QOTSA's story a single evolving thread, that already achieved its apotheosis in Songs for the Deaf and is now tapering off? Or is it a bunch of distinct eras, moving from the playful hits on Rated R, to the concept album of Songs For The Deaf and now onto a more pop sound? Perhaps the only correct response is no response at all; pigeonholing and inventing narratives provides lazy journalists with an easy way to relate and identify material, but creates a suffocating chamber for the artists within.