Imogen Mellor reviews a hit-and-miss new album from Queens of the Stone Age
Villains is Queens of the Stone Age’s sixth and newest album and I was put in a pretty extraordinary position when it came to reviewing this album; Friday the 25th of August, a date that probably doesn’t mean much to most people, but to me it’s the day that Queens played a secret set at Reading Festival. I was fortunate enough to be there, right at the front with other surprised fans and their set was incredible. No doubt one of my favourites and they happened to play their two new singles from Villains as a little promo. Listening to them play live is a different experience to listening at home but I’ll try to be unbiased as not many people who listened to the album had the same opportunity I did but bonus fact: the set was televised and I appear looking like a sweaty mess a couple of times during it.
As a whole, I had to take my time listening to this album, giving myself more perspective on what it would sound like to someone who wasn’t familiar with their work but also letting it sit with me for a while. I was really unsure of what I thought of it for a good week and it’s only been the last few days where I can get my head around it. If you disagree with my opinions on these songs I wouldn’t be surprised as each person I have talked to about this album has reacted differently.
The album starts out eerily with an opener called ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’. This intro sets up the entire album so well. It’s called Villains for a reason and you can hear that in the first 30 seconds. This intro builds into the main portion of the song and the payoff is absolutely worth it. It’s a song simply about dancing and moving your feet and really feeling the rhythm of a party and song and oh my lord, do I want to dance to this song. No, it’s not conventionally a dance track as many people would consider it, but it would at least get heads bopping along. It’s a great opener and leads the album in the right direction.
The first single and second track is ‘The Way You Used To Do’ and I have already written a review on this track but I’ll break down my thoughts again. I loved this song when it came out, and continue to do so. Its hard hitting, fast paced and very reminiscent of the instrumentation of their last album, …Like Clockwork, albeit it doesn’t have quite the same quality to it. Here you can really start to hear the influence from their producer Mark Ronson for the first time and fans are divided between liking it, or thinking it’s not what the Queens should sound like. On the whole, I believe it works though and to quote myself from the previous review, I think Ronson here ‘cuts their new sound to the bone, tears it apart and puts it back together in a new and exciting way, a way that we haven’t heard the Queens before’.
‘Domesticated Animals’ is up next. A song that alludes to the idea of conformity and the Queens’ opposition to it. This is where my questioning of the album really started. This song didn’t excite me at first. I was okay with the track and when the second verse rolled around, and a heavy bass jumped in, I loved it, but it still lacks the production quality of …Like Clockwork. It seemed boring in comparison to some of their other works. A few weeks on, I understand it more and like the track more. This one is more reliant on lyrics making it a good song and if you did take the time to listen to it, the lyric would be what you would get excited for. Overall I like the song but nowhere near my favourite on the album.
‘Fortress’ is one to look out for. At number 4 on the track list and an intro that sounds almost cinematic. Lyrically, this song shines amongst the other tracks. Alluding to someone Joshua Homme (lead singer and songwriter of the Queens) loves and refers to as a ‘Fortress’ when it comes to emotions and reassuring them that if their fortress ever falls, they can be protected by Homme. It’s a song of being strong but at the same time, letting someone else into your life and into your fortress. This is far more heart-felt than most songs Queens of the Stone Age has ever written, because their songs are usually about a story or, of a person talking on their individual thoughts and feelings but this is more of a love song. Instrumentally, again nothing particularly special which is what I loved Queens for in the first place, so it tears me between loving and being indifferent about this track.
‘Head Like a Haunted House’ is a welcome release of energy and aggression. We get back to being the Villains the Queens have named the album after as this is a heavy hitting dance track with a kill bass line and fast paced drums. Vocally, Joshua hasn’t sung like this since their earlier albums and it’s fun to hear him lose himself to the beat. This song is also instrumentally is what I love, as it sounds like 100 parts playing at once and you can listen it to it dozens of times and only start to understand the intricacy of it all. Really truly a fun listen and maybe what I excepted of this album more than anything else on the track list.
‘Un-Reborn Again’ has a groovy beginning that I love dearly. This is why I was a little disappointed with the rest of the track at first. I wanted a groovy smooth vocal part from Homme and this isn’t the case. He almost shouts lyrics which honestly seems like a weird choice as the song is about drugs and wanting to stay young as long as possible. It doesn’t seem angry lyrically, only through the tone of the delivery. Again with many tracks on this album, it’s grown on me considerably but again, a little disappointing when I thought it started out so strong.
‘Hideaway’, oozes Iggy Pop. Plain and simple, it sounds like Homme wrote it with his collaboration with Iggy Pop in mind. Last year, Homme and Fertita worked with Pop on his album Post-Pop Depression and this song is so very similar to the tracks and the sounds of that album entirely. I haven’t mentioned it up until now but the album as a whole has little bits here and there which sound like a collaboration album but I didn’t admit this to myself until this track. For me, I would like this song and be impressed with it if it was any other band, except from Queens. It is forgettable and a little lackluster compared to their other works but it’s not a track I would skip. If you want an introduction to the album, do not listen to this song.
‘The Evil Has Landed’, the second single from the album is a 6 minute long roller coaster of rock and roll riffs. Far more reminiscent of the earlier albums that the band created, ‘The Evil Has Landed’ is a rock thriller that goes from a swinging bass riff and nonchalant whooping and harmonisation by Homme, to a runaway train ending with a thumping motif and sweeping heavily distorted riffs. This was what I wanted the rest of the album to sound like. It’s what I imagined the next step of Queens of the Stone Age to be like and the song delivers a two-part thrill ride. I love this song and if you liked any previous Queens music, the chances are you will too.
The last track on this fairly short album is ‘Villains of Circumstance’. An atmospheric song, reminiscent of …Like Clockworks ballads, ‘The Vampyre of Time and Memory’ and the title track. The song starts out with some spacious bass guitar chords. Around a third of the way in, the chorus picks up into a rock song again before falling back to the bare bones of this song. It’s a beautiful song if you take the time to listen to it, but even as a huge Queens fan, it can be hard to make the commitment to actually pay attention for 6 minutes but really it’s worth it just to hear the rise and fall of this song. As a side note which I hope someone doesn’t kill me for: it reminded me of a Muse song in its spacious moments.
As a whole, this album is a grower. You have to continue to listen to it over a week to start to get it. It is worth mentioning though that this is the first time Queens of the Stone Age have gotten to the top of the album charts in the UK and it’s with an album that many fans consider amongst their worst. Hold your thoughts however because a bad Queens of the Stone Age album is still an incredible album compared to many others. If nothing else, this album should lead people to listen to their other albums. Go listen to Rated R, …Like Clockwork and Lullabies to Paralyze or any of their other albums if you really want a good feel for what this band can do.
Villains is available to stream now. Queens of the Stone Age will tour the UK in November 2017.