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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Album review: Queens of the Stone Age’s Villains revels in its extremes

The US rockers let their guard down and put on their dancing shoes in taught new album.

Josh Homme of Queens of The Stone Age performs on stage during Day 1 of the Reading Festival on August 25, 2017 in Reading, England.  C Brandon / Redferns
Josh Homme of Queens of The Stone Age performs on stage during Day 1 of the Reading Festival on August 25, 2017 in Reading, England. C Brandon / Redferns

A lot has been reported about how the sprightly new album by Queens of the Stone Age is a reboot for the rockers.

While Villains is full of virile and thrilling moments, the seventh album is actually a thematic continuation from the previous work, 2013’s emotionally revelatory ...Like Clockwork.

Where that album traced Josh Homme’s recovery and subsequent depression as a result from a near-death experience after a complicated knee operation, in Villains he wants us to know that he is back and raring to go.

It’s no coincidence the album opener’s is titled Feet Don’t Fail Me which comes with rump-shaking Devo meets Mastodon riffs. The track also lays down the manifesto for the album: “We move with an urgency/Between pleasure and agony/that’s the sound that is calling me.”

Indeed, the album is about such extremes. Homme and co are not so much interested in contrast, but to fuse the disparate corners together instead. This is life, they seem to say: pain and pleasure, agony and ecstasy, head-banging and disco dancing.

The Way You Used to Do is even more giddy. The guitars are both scalding and razor-sharp, Jon Theodore’s tumbling drumming sounds like heavy barrels rolling downhill, while Homme – blissfully crooning over the controlled chaos – ponders “giving birth to monsters who will terrorise normalcy”.

Then again, even monsters can be insecure. In the chiming and violin laced rock-ballad Fortress, Homme gives his brood some hard-fought life advice.

Nearly six-and-a-half foot tall, the leather jacket-bound Homme is rock’s quintessential tough guy. Hence the tenderness here is genuinely affecting: “I don’t want to fail you/so I tell you the awful truth/Everyone faces darkness on their own/As I have done, so will you.”

By the time you arrive towards monolithic and album highlight The Evil Has Landed, you begin to realise the role of super-pop producer Mark Ronson. The Englishman’s contribution was to create order from the chaos.

Despite the guitars squalling, lurching and careening with ZZ Top-esque abandon, not to mention the atmospheric synths and heavy bass, Ronson ensures the hooks are never lost in the heady brew.

With most of the nine songs clocking in at over five minutes, Villains is Queens of the Stone Age’s most sprawling effort, yet it finds the band at their most focused.

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