Queens of the Stone Age always seemed like the perfect name for a dance or glam-rock band, instead of the riff-heavy rock frontman Josh Homme imbued his band with. Yet with their seventh full-length, Villains, Homme fulfills that unspoken potential in nine tracks and 48 minutes that would soundtrack nicely to an arsonist’s attack on a disco. This devil-may-care experimentation does not always hit with a perfect landing, but no one can say Homme and his Queens are content with the status quo. If nothing else, Villains deserves respect for the ballsy production that it is.
This is the first LP with no guest members, and the first with new drummer Jon Theodore. This, combined with the tighter focus on dance and their collaboration with Mark Ronson, has led to the Queens’ most widely accessible record since Songs for the Deaf. At the same time, underneath the chilly synths and doom-and-gloom disco remains their limber melodies and sludgy, dirty rock.
With these more up-tempo tracks, the “Uptown Funk”-ification of the band may seem like too drastic a change for long-time fans. To be sure, this new direction does leave little for Theodore and bassist Michael Shuman to do, outside of the blues-heavy rhythm of ‘The Evil Has Landed.’ Still, with songs like ‘The Way You Used to Do’ there is little use denying the purely visceral bent of the guitar work.
Lyrically, the Queens have melded their new musical direction with the badass nihilism and post-apocalyptia that defined previous records. Homme starts the second verse of opener ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’ with “life is hard, that’s why no one survives.” It’s hard not to listen to gems like that in awe at how they pulled off this bizarre blend of style. On the other end of the sonic spectrum is the relaxed and lilting ‘Hideaway’, one of those songs that seems manufactured for a road trip.
Fans worried about Ronson’s presence can breathe a sigh of relief. Instead of regressing into simplistic yet tight pop music, these songs manage to twist and turn into new roads without meandering or getting lost in excess. There is no track here below four minutes, outside of the freaky psych of ‘Head like a Haunted House.’
This ethos helps so that even when their bold experimentation makes a wrong turn, like on the painfully dull refrains of ‘Fortress’ it’s still kind of cool that they even went there. It remains very easy for a band to rest on their laurels in this late career phase, but that’s never been Josh’s oeuvre. It really should have come as no surprise, given his laundry list of side projects, yet Villains true success is in that it largely remains a surprise throughout, without leading us into what could have very easily been a stale rehash of dead disco.