It’s relatively safe to say the news that Mark Ronson—the British pop producer behind Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, who struck gold in 2014 with his single “Uptown Funk”—was producing the forthcoming Queens of the Stone Age record sent waves of fear through the hearts of the band’s longtime followers. Is QOTSA’s seventh album Villains a little slicker? A little tidier? Danceable? The answer is yes. But Ronson’s touch has not made Josh Homme’s songs any less heavy, weird or ambitious.
Take a song like “Domesticated Animals,” Villains’ best offering. It’s got it all—a bass line that will rattle your fillings, crisp drumming, sinister hand claps, squirrelly guitars, an apocalyptic chorus, all held together by Homme’s silky voice. The buzzy “Un-Reborn Again” sounds like a cross between Gary Numan and the Cars at their darkest. The glam rock stomp of “Head Like a Haunted House” is met with the plastic soul of “Hideaway” (no doubt a byproduct of Homme’s collaboration with Iggy Pop on 2016’s excellent Post Pop Depression) and the balls-out stomper “The Evil Has Landed.” While the Queens pull from rock touchstones of yore, Homme and co. are very much making something new with them.
It helps that Homme’s mind and voice are directing the ship. Ronson’s bone-dry production also plays a key role—matching ’70s studio tricks with modern ambient flourishes. Villains also benefits from the fact that Homme settled on a sturdy lineup (including longtime guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen) vs. the glut of revolving guest musicians and egos of past albums. In that sense Villains is far more consistent and taut than 2013’s sprawling …Like Clockwork—every song punches hard. Add to that the levity of Rated R, which busts up any semblance of being too overwrought. Homme’s rock ’n’ roll instincts are still as keen as ever.
Paste Magazine’s review of …Like Clockwork propped QOTSA up as sort of the modern-day Zeppelin or Metallica. That might be even more true now—a band that somehow straddles the mainstream while retaining their rock credibility. Sure, some fans will bitch about it, but time will undoubtedly be kind to the band. The evolution of Queens of the Stone Age has been slow and steady; and 20 years in the band still sounds amazingly energized. Even more miraculous is the notion that Queens of the Stone Age have perhaps yet to hit their creative peak—no small feat for any band, let alone one that still tinkers with a form of music as old as rock.