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“Save me from the Villains of circumstance before I loose my place”
In many ways, Josh Homme is the fusion of both the classic old-school rocker and the guiding light to the legions of contemporary artists trying to find their own way in a fast-changing world. On one hand, the enigmatic front man and chief songwriter of this review’s subject – his baby, Queens Of The Stone Age – proudly flies the flag for guitar rock in a time where technology has taken over the sounds of acoustic/traditional instruments more than ever before. Where taking the traditional four or five-piece garage band route may be seen as dated and out of touch with the rest of the musical world. On the other hand, however, his song writing and musical endeavors constantly seek to dip the toe in the contemporary or unexplored sounds of the world. Across a vast number of current and past projects, a list that includes Kyuss, Them Crooked Vultures, Eagles Of Death Metal, soundtracks, film scores and god knows what else, there has been a notable awareness to spice up the music just enough to feel at home on the current airwaves often set against a backdrop of classic, blues-infused rock & roll.
On ‘Villians’, the newest effort by QOTSA, the above is more apparent than ever before. Easily their most accessible record this side of the millennia, Homme’s collaboration with Mark Ronson on this effort is clear in the poppy, effortless hooks of ‘The Way You Used To’ or the thundering funk of ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’. Of course, any great rock record is held together by catchy pop songs dressed in distortion and fuzz – as is the case with QOTSA classics ‘No One Knows’ or ‘Go With The Flow’. Such a technique is by no means new for this revered band, with the addition of fuzzy synths over the guitars serving as the only notable (and by no means unwarranted) difference to the songwriting this time around.
Yet despite the feel-good façade that ‘Villains’ gives off, there is a constant sense of unease & discomfort lingering just beneath the surface, one which manifests slightly more in the body of the record. ‘Fortress’ seemingly voices Homme’s thoughts about the inevitable ageing of both his own music and the world around him, reminding listeners that “I know you’re afraid, yet you’ve gotta move on….every fortress is under siege.” Likewise, ‘Un-Re-Born Again’ provides the hooks and grooves essential to any slab of radio-friendly alternative pop, yet purposely stalls in its progression, resulting in a paradoxically upbeat slow burner that is as dark as it is catchy. Any song into which you can sneak a tenor sax is worthy of all six minutes of attention, and this tune provides the goods!
Overall, ‘Villains’ poses as a (sort of) youthful and energetic incarnation of QOTSA, yet when you look closer uses it’s upbeat ethos as a beard disguising a profound sense of unease and doubt. It’s only in the records closing track ‘Titles Of Circumstance’ that we see Homme strip away the layers, voicing the reality that; “Life moves on, that’s what scares me so, I have no intentions of letting go.” Life doesn’t slow down for even the greatest of rock stars, and as QOTSA make that very clear on ‘Villains‘. Often, that’s all even the best of the best can do to simply keep up with the times.
Rather than try desperately to resurrect rock & roll, QOTSA have shown that if something moves with the time, it can still sound cool. It’s not the pedal to the floor garage jams that first put them upon the map, but there’s enough on ‘Villians’ to make you think, tp question the world and to be thankful that the old dudes are still open minded musically.
1. Feet Don’t Fail Me
2. The Way You Used to Do
3. Domesticated Animals
5. Head Like a Haunted House
6. Un-Reborn Again
8. The Evil Has Landed
9. Villains of Circumstance
‘Villians’ is out now.