I’ve always considered Queens of the Stone Age to be one of rock’s dark horses. The Josh Homme-led collective consistently cranks out killer tunes, even if there is a long time in between LP’s. 2013’s …Like Clockwork was six years in the making, and while the four-year wait for Villains dwarfed in comparison, by the time their seventh full-length finally arrived late last week, QOTSA diehards were still anxiously itching to hear it. Many folks, myself included, were intrigued to hear how famed pop producer Mark Ronson would gel in the studio with the desert rockers, and how this end product would stack up with the rest of the band’s discography.
Record number seven from Queens of the Stone Age is conveniently bookended with what I feel like are its two best tracks. It opens with “Feet Don’t Fail Me,” where an eerie intro segues into a spacey synth line, which itself soon makes way for a massive rocker with a vicious guitar groove. In its nearly six minutes of runtime, “Feet Don’t Fail Me” never once lets up. Its counterpart, the closer “Villains of Circumstance,” brings a much darker vibe to the table. Instrumentally, it’s slower on the verses but louder on the choruses, the latter with the rhythm section in full swing. Vocally, it very well may be Homme’s best performance on the entire album. As if that’s not enough, the last minute or so of the quasi-title track leaves every other moment from Villains in its dust.
Elsewhere on the record, the spacey synths continue to make an appearance, especially shining through on another highlight, “Un-Reborn Again.” Things really get wild at one point on this guitar-slinging rocker, before it ends with a stellar string arrangement and a guest appearance from Fitz & The Tantrums saxophonist James King. The prominent bassline on Villains is also worth noting, whether it’s in a tight groove with the drums on “The Evil Has Landed” or meandering along on the synth-heavy “Hideaway.” Of course, I would be remiss to not mention the signature roaring guitars for which Queens of the Stone Age has become so well-known, from the arena-style shuffle of lead single “The Way You Used to Do” to the pairing with The String Quartet and a few brief (but phenomenal) moments of sonic dissonance of “Domesticated Animals.”
Villains may only be nine tracks, but in terms of duration it’s the band’s longest studio effort in over twelve years, so naturally the songs themselves are longer and headier. Not only that, but Ronson’s thumbprints are all over the disc, making for a dancier listen as well. After all, when “Uptown Funk” serves as one of the album’s primary influences, it makes sense why Homme and company brought in the brains behind the smash hit. The record is significantly different from the rest of Queens’ material, and pales alongside some of their best works, though that doesn’t stop Villains from being a really fun listen.