Trying to find a less darkened influence for their follow-up to …Like Clockwork, pulling in Mark Ronson seems to have paid off for Queens of the Stone Age on their seventh record. While shifting gears a little, the band is no less dark and demented, finding even more of their strange track-to-track mischief. While the more sparse moments and overall sound will make this a much more demanding listen for fans of their last couple records, it fits the bill in ways you won’t expect.
Keeping the moody theatrics of …Like Clockwork, “Feet Don’t Fail Me” starts on a dark thumping intro full of synths and an eerie mantra. As the song rips right out of its built the hefty groove that sounds like “Smooth Sailing” on speed slams the ears into a dance-focused romp. The overall gothic tone of all the keys and low-key funk come together in the solo for one of the most horror-infused songs the band has done in a while.
While shockingly psychobilly for Queens, “The Way You Used To Do” feels like a weird blast from the past for them. Much lighter in its production, the weird moments of the song come through in the twisted pre-choruses that Joshua Homme’s strange polka-leanings always lend so well. Masters of the stop and go dynamics, the song’s true brilliance comes in the weirdly made verses, filled with filters and weird fills.
“Domesticated Animals” launches into a completely unconventional climb, as the band comes in one after another with Homme. The bizarre groove becomes more and more intoxicating as the song goes along and the synths start to dig their hooks in. The shredding bridge finds the band finally exploding into a flurry of guitars and pounding notes as they start to tumble with relentless energy before turning it all around. While it’s definitely a harder listen than a lot of the record, the weird vocal moments by Homme make up for it a bit.
After a slow-burning intro that recalls “Fairweather Friends,” the slimy riffs of “Fortress” fire away. With a lot more sunny harmonies than usual for Queens, they layer a lot of creepy little guitar notes throughout the track. Using stereo exciting ends, they really place the band in ways that make the song more fluid, even giving Josh’s vocals a light sense of movement. Living by its strong chorus with melting hooks littered throughout, it’s a slightly bland but ultimately deep track.
On the killer drum and bass combo that opens “Head Like A Haunted House” they race out the gates with a vicious pace. Crashing at the end of every phrase, they even through in hilarious lines like “Xanadus and Xanadon’ts” while the Theremin-esque keys add to the spooky atmosphere. While the song does feel a little ridiculously amateur and B-Movie-influenced, it’s hard to deny that with all the precise and explosive moments that it’s not ridiculously fun. Considering the tone of Queens over the years as well, the kitschy sound is likely by design anyways.
Letting the synths craft the mood on “Un-Reborn Again” has a mix of sci-fi in its shadowy crawl. A little less dynamic at times, the times where the song opens up for crashes and synth fills are definitely some of the most fiery on the track. Saving a bit of the blander sound by throwing their quirky progressions over some harmonies and weird string moments, they find some of the best moments of the song near the end of its six minute run.
“Hideaway” finds Queens bringing in some of their smoothest percussion and rhythm in ages, making for a deeply infectious sound in the roots of this track. Taking dark dives with hints of “I Appear Missing” the track leans into more of what makes Queens heavy yet dirty sound so fun to listen to. Ultimately a more pop track than previous albums, its’ the best on the record at making this as work in an exciting way.
One of the strongest tracks on the record, it won’t surprise many Homme fans that “The Evil Has Landed” is also the most Them Crooked Vultures-like track on the record. The bouncy way each instruments’ different hooks interplay on the track is delicious and Homme’s little “Hit it” that kicks off the guitars is one of the only instances of his usually more pronounced vocal cues. The building chorus of “Come Close” chants burns right into a back and forth with the verses before another haunted bridge. Breathing in even more life through the stops they bring in, the track fans the flames on its soaring solo as the harmonies and guitars dance together. The final, “Here…We…Come” that throws the song into its final shred off takes the song into one more exciting moment, packing more clever writing in one song than a lot of the middle of the record.
Finishing strong on “Villains Of Circumstance,” they make much better use of their extended run-time than some of the other tracks on the record. Starting on a slow, and mysterious intro, the track leaves a dark cloud over listeners as Homme croons into the night. When the band finally hits in, the sweep of piano and guitars makes a powerfully stirring combo, hitting emotional ground unexpected of them. Tearing with emotionally-charged fury, the drenched guitars and more ecstatic moments of the song feel less reckless and more on point thematically, making rock with meaning.
A lightly bookended album, Villains isn’t the powerhouse that …Like Clockwork was, but it charts new ground for the band nonetheless. Recalling bits and pieces of the band’s previous work, there’s a lot to dig into, but occasionally the record does feel a little like its missing something. Brightened up, Queens might need to dig a little deeper to stick the landing perfectly next time.
Words by Owen Maxwell