Review Summary: Midlife crisis? Nothing but a good time? Maybe both?
If anything, the title of Joshua Homme and his devoted Queens' seventh studio affair is a peculiar one, given that this is probably the least villain-y
the band have sounded in their near-20-year existence. Long gone have traces of the distortion and haze-infused stoner rock flexibilities of their debut album been for quite some time (particularly since the notedly darker Lullabies to Paralyze
hit the stores, one would argue). With tens of records to his name at this point and at age 44, Josh Homme is more than ever an artist free to perform as he well pleases. If the massive ...Like Clockwork
continued his trend of making sure that no Queens Of The Stone Age album quite resembles one another - all the while becoming one of the most celebrated entities in the group's collection, - Villains
sees the ginger again going back to the drawing board and attempting to renew his craft.
It takes little more than a simple cursory look, however, to realize that maybe the concept of a groove-infused incarnation of Queens Of The Stone Age isn't an entirely strange or far-fetched one. To picture a Josh Homme willing to shake his hips for a minute and put on a couple of dance moves isn't at all hard to do, even in the beginnings of the millennium (see: "Monsters In The Parasol"). In fact, Era Vulgaris
actually took these dance predispositions up a notch, be it in the form of the raucous "Turnin' On The Screw" or the overly-horny "Make It Wit Chu." So, while Villains
is its own product, it's not something that was born out of thin air either. But, just as Era
is clearly the often maligned black sheep in the group's discography, it's not hard to understand why this new release sometimes falls on its feet as well.
Josh Homme's time spent with Iggy Pop during the last year reflects on a portion of what Villains
has to offer: unfortunately, however, it seems he hasn't been as influenced by the riot beast behind Fun House
as much as he has been by the semi-senile 70-year old babbling on about shoving laptops into people's mouths and who-knows-what-else. Case in point, "Domesticated Animals." It's usually a bad sign if your song sounds like a rejected cut from an already uneventful album such as Post Pop Depression
, the Queens having possibly never sounded as stale in their long run as they do here. This, and its preceding track "The Way You Used To Do" - bogged down by flat production and a surprisingly lackluster delivery by Homme - are the main examples of the boogie gimmick the group try to put to work on the record, and it's almost unexpected to see how they end up being two of the main offenders to be found. The problem is further aggravated by the fact that they appear on the tracklist so early on, almost as if Villains
risks sabotaging itself from the beginning.
Mark Ronson being the renowned hit-machine he is, it's an entertaining exercise to analyze how this collaboration doesn't seem to work to its fullest potential in the places where it'd be more likely to succeed, and how, on the other side of the coin, it creates moments of brilliance in areas that step out of the producer's comfort. If the aforementioned "The Way You Used To Do" doesn't excite in spite of its danceable sensibility, Ronson's subdued subtlety helps make "Fortress" one of the unquestionable standouts on the entire release. Homme's best vocal performance is augmented greatly by his heartfelt lyrics penned to his children, while the necessary backbone to the song is provided by droning guitars and excellent drumming from Jon Theodore - who is, for reasons unknown, criminally underused in other parts of the album. The collective also make the most out of the triumphant opener "Feet Don't Fail Me", its pounding beat leading the way - and if a couple of Homme's vocal inflections on this track may be prone to getting on some listeners' skins, it's nice to see him in his most lively form. Furthermore, the closing blow administered by "The Evil Has Landed" and "Villains Of Circumstance" - the former recalling some of the most groove-ready moments of Them Crooked Vultures, and the latter sounding like something that would feel at home in ...Like Clockwork
- ends the album in its best run of form, and would almost be enough to more easily forgive the misfires that otherwise keep Villains
But inconsistency seems to be the key word here, in what ultimately amounts to a slightly frustrating, though still enjoyable experience. For every "Fortress" there seems to be a "The Way You Used To Do," and for every "The Evil Has Landed" there's a "Hideaway" - which does little to justify its length. To dismiss this endeavor as an unequivocally failed experiment would be too harsh, and to label Ronson as the villain of the story would be all-too-easy for Homme devotees - and ultimately reductive, seen as Joshua was the man who wanted to pursuit this change of direction in the first place. Neither judgement would feel completely correct, and by subscribing to either of them one would deprive himself of the successes this album does achieve. Surely, the absence of longtime collaborators like the iconic Mark Lanegan is disappointing, and after last time around's career resurgence, to see skyrocketed expectations be unfulfilled is almost unavoidable. But, in times like this, a certain amount of tact is necessary. Already having records such as Rated R
, Songs For The Deaf
and ...Like Clockwork
in his curriculum, it'd be safe to say Homme has little or nothing more to prove. He and his Queens aren't getting any younger either. It may be tempting to ask him to go back to playing the way he used to do, but the man just wants to dance for a minute - and while he can still have a decent crack at it in his usual charming persona without making a fool of himself, he's earned the right to do it.