Tuesday 12 September 2017

Review of 'Villains' by Queens Of The Stone Age

QOTSA’s new album is badly-produced Bowie-worship.

Okay, that description’s a tad harsh. ‘Bowie-worship’ makes it sound like I don’t enjoy the fact that Josh Homme now sounds like Bowie, when in fact that’s one of the highlights of this record. As for ‘badly-produced’, well, I have a feeling Mark Ronson didn’t just so happen to fuck up the mastering by spilling coffee on the mixing board. The production is intentionally supposed to sound this tinny and some listeners don’t seem to mind it. But for me, it’s a real barrier.

Villains follows much in the same vein as the rockers’ last album Like Clockwork…, which saw the band trading in catchy crowd-pleasing guitar anthems for meditative gloomy dirges. The lyrics continue to be as dark, lingering on topics of death but with a touch of humour behind them. They’re some of Homme’s most inventive to date – the singer even going so far as to invent his own words on numerous occasions to get his point across such as ‘macaberet’ and ‘screwicide’.

Homme’s lyrics aren’t the only aspect that’s more creative. Instrumentally, these songs are also kookier, as exemplified from the start with opener ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’, which begins with sci-fi synths and a hammering drum like some mutated version of the Flash Gordon soundtrack, before erupting into a stomping guitar groove. ‘Head Like A Haunted House’ meanwhile is a Dead-Kennedys-like punk jam, whilst ‘Hideaway’ rides a Bowie-esque synth sporting a spacey ‘Ashes to Ashes’ feel (there’s Bowie vibes all over this album).

Of course, the band have also decided to get creative with the production, which is where my praises for this record end. The second track ‘The Way You Used To’ feels like it could have been an upbeat dance-worthy rock gem if it wasn’t over-compressed to sound as flat as a toad on a motorway. And then there’s the end of ‘Un-Reborn Again’, which sees all the instruments coming into the mix for what could have been an epic crescendo if Mark Ronson hadn’t dampened it by turning down the volume knob.

This is the producer who gave us ‘Uptown Funk’, so there’s no reason the production should sound this flaccid other than Mark wanting it to sound like that. Josh Homme and crew must have decided they liked it too. And some fans and critics don’t seem to be phased. To me, it may as well be a tasty spicy dish with a jar of cream dumped in – it’s got no kick. It’s a hypercar with a speed limiter on it. It’s Floyd Mayweather with no arms. It’s a decaffeinated espresso shot. It’s sex in the dark.