I’m not the biggest QOTSA fan in the room. There are others that their love and admiration for Josh Homme and crew far outweigh my own. I really didn’t come around to them till Lullabies To Paralyze. Even the massive Songs for the Deaf wasn’t enough to peak my interest in the desert rock monoliths. Though, since the mid-2000s I’ve grown to admire Josh Homme, from both his albums and interviews. He comes off much more down to earth and goofy than his stoned desert rat image would reveal. And I’ve also come to really be impressed with the guy’s guitar moves. He’s a unique player with a unique sound. I think years of hanging out with the likes of Alain Johannes, Billy Gibbons, and Chris Goss have worn off on his own style. Queens’ last record, …Like Clockwork sounded like a “come to Jesus” moment for Homme. Not that it was his reborn Christian album, but that after a huge health scare and too many years ingesting chemicals of varied components the guy realized he wasn’t some desert rock God. He was just a mere mortal like you and me and it was time to reel it all in or burn out much too early. That album was dark, sobering, and a slate cleaner in terms of music.
Where do you go once you’ve bared your soul and went to war with your own mortality on an album? You go to Mark Ronson, that’s where. Queens of the Stone Age have returned after four years of side projects, shows, and woodshedding with Villains, a Mark Ronson-produced album. The results are both what you’d expect and also not what you’d expect. That’s neither good nor bad. It just is.
Nobody gets the scuzzy boogie going like Queens of the Stone Age. It seems to be in their DNA. Maybe something they acquired near Joshua Tree amidst the burning sun and fuzzy headspace. They’ve patented their own groove and only they know how to control the machine. Opening track “Feet Don’t Fail Me” ominously opens like a Pandora’s Box and breaks into some patented Queens scuzz rock. We’re nearly in robot disco territory here, and Josh Homme sounds man enough to own it. Next up is the greasy boogie of “The Way You Used To Do”. This is like some bizarre party song from some other dimension where tattoos, leather, and fuzzy bass are requirements. Homme has never hidden his love of Billy Gibbons’ guitar pyrotechnics and here he lets that love show proudly. It’s a hell of a track, really. “Head Like A Haunted House” sounds like the Queens on a Germs bender. Pure adrenaline and all the weird stuff we’ve come to expect and love from QOTSA. “Un-Reborn Again” touts wonky synths and a Georgia Satellites lyric drop. Part glam and part middle finger(with a painted fingernail, of course.) Last track “Villains of Circumstance” is also a great track. It pulls in some of that drama and desolation that made …Like Clockwork so present and engaged.
Here’s the thing, there’s just too many moments of dead air. Either Mark Ronson wasn’t used enough or too much. All the danger and friction that made past records resonate seems to be muted down. The greasy guitar tones and junkyard drums and overdriven bass sound just seem contrived here. Ronson makes good on his reputation in certain aspects. Josh Homme sounds as good as he’s ever sounded, and when tracks swing they really swing. But the consistency of greatness just isn’t here like you think it should be.
Villains is a step out of the Queens’ comfort zone. They seem to have wanted to make a fun, accessible rock album and for the most part I think they have. It doesn’t bite as hard as it used to, but the bark is still there.
P.S., I miss Mark Lanegan.