Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘Villains’ wears a leather jacket and dancing shoes
Carlos De Loera | Tuesday, September 12, 2017
What do Paul McCartney, Amy Winehouse, Nas, and Jimmy Fallon have in common? Nothing, right? Wrong. Had you asked me this question a few weeks ago, I too would have said nothing. So what is it that binds these people together? Mark Ronson. The prolific English producer has worked on an album for each of these artists, which is rather impressive and perplexing. So, when I found out that he would be producing the new Queens of the Stone Age (QOTSA) album, “Villains,” I had mixed feelings. On one hand, I am a fan of the albums he has produced for the previously listed artists (“Back to Black” is incredible). On the other hand, I enjoy the crunchy, fuzzy sound of QOTSA, and Ronson had not worked with a sound quite like theirs before. Luckily, my fears were quelled. In “Villains,” Ronson and QOTSA were able to create an album that is both legitimate hard rock and impossible not to shake your hips to.
After about a minute of muffled sounds, the opening track — “Feet Don’t Fail Me” — opens with an infectious upstroke-filled guitar riff that is complemented with a disco-esque drum beat. The track could almost pass for a Franz Ferdinand, if not for a few fuzzed-up guitar licks and frontman Josh Homme’s skillful lyrics. The track then flows nicely into the album’s radio single, “The Way You Used To,” where Ronson’s influence shines. “The Way You Used To” starts with hand claps and distorted guitars that will instantly make you want to do your best Elvis hip-gyration impressions. With this song, Ronson is somehow able to create a danceable song, which he is no stranger to (think “Uptown Funk”), while still preserving an authentic QOTSA sound that makes for the most fun track on the album.
An element that struck me about the album was that the nine-track release almost seems to be split into two four song albums connected by a dually identifying fifth track. The first four songs of the album have a decidedly Ronson influenced sound, while the last four songs are more traditionally QOTSA sounding. The song that links the two halves is “Head Like a Haunted House.” This song’s mix of seemingly wanting to be an “Era Vulgaris”-era QOTSA hit while still being guided by Ronson results in a track that sounds like it could have been featured in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The ghost-like booing in the background and quick guitars of the song elicit memories of Riff Raff singing and dancing the “Time Warp.”
The second half of the album plays out as a much more quintessentially QOTSA release — complete with crunchy riffs, intricate solos, and heavy use of the bass drum. “The Evil Has Landed” is the perfect example of this. It kicks off with a Jimmy Page-like guitar riff and is followed by a rhythm section that very much mimics John Paul Jones (one of Homme’s bandmates in Them Crooked Vultures) and John Bonham. The song also feels a bit like a Jack White concoction with an overly effect-filled and squeally guitar solo. The track most plays like one off of their “Songs for the Deaf” album, which benefitted from the musical stylings of Dave Grohl on drums and Homme at his best.
This collaboration between Homme and Ronson manages to skillfully allow QOTSA to dip their toes into the water of a more pop-oriented sound while not forcing them to be seen as sell outs. What holds the album back then is not the quasi-attempt at a new sound, but rather an unsatisfying middle section of the album, specifically tracks three, four, six and seven, which seem to drag on for much too long. However, the heights that the other tracks reach provide for a listening experience that is fierce, fun and worthwhile.
Artist: Queens of the Stone Age
Favorite Tracks: “Feet Don’t Fail Me,” “The Evil Has Landed”
If you like: Foo Fighters, Franz Ferdinand, Jack White, Led Zeppelin
Shamrocks: 4 out of 5