Back in the saddle again after their monumental and roaring comeback release …Like Clockwork, Queens of the Stone Age return with a through and through well-done and meticulously crafted release in Villains. As their third release in ten years, Villains stands to attest that the bad boys of Palm Desert don’t make much noise unless the noise is really worth making (side projects aside, of course). And with never a shortage of talent on virtually anything and everything Josh Homme graces (see Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression for a recent colossus), the addition of Mark Ronson on production bolsters different shades, sounds, and textures to a well-established and thoroughly solidified underlining. Ronson is the icing to the cake without being overtly prominent, and although sounds may seem to wander from their hardened sound, Villains is very much a testament to their vampire and black leather rock beginnings.
For those looking a smidgen too deep into the somewhat odd and unusual pairing of Ronson and the desert rockers, look no further than the production caliber of two seasoned powerhouses, both within the group and Ronson. Yes, Queens of the Stone Age and Villains in particular sound drastically different than say “You Know I’m No Good” or “Uptown Funk” (the latter being polar opposites). But oftentimes production quality goes far beyond the surface of sound and asserts itself in subtle yet incredibly prevailing manners, especially with the collaborative and weathered nature of both the group and Ronson. Think of an album like Beck’s 2008 release Modern Guilt. You get two indescribable talents in Danger Mouse and Beck himself, and yet the result is as subtle as it powerful. It certainly isn’t fool-proof (see Red Hot Chili Peppers’ The Getaway), but when it works well, it goes the distance, and that’s exactly what Villains does. So let’s get into the weeds, shall we?
Talent goes quite the distance when you have Troy Van Leeuwen and Dean Fertita in the backdrop. And it’s not just backdrop where their trappings can be heard, it’s solely their ability to layer guitar parts on songs like the chorus of “Domesticated Animal”. Having three(ish) guitar players enables the group to weave and intertwine melodies on a level that most acts can’t, and it certainly sets them apart when composition demagogues collide. But what’s starkly different about having Ronson behind the board on Villains is that it doesn’t scream in your face. It’s indirect, tasteful, and well orchestrated. “Un-Reborn Again” is a classic example of this. It drives a melody like the black-leather rock band they are, but kicks off with electronic nodes that point towards a genius of a DJ like Ronson, specifically in the beginning and towards the end with those erie whistle-like additions. The hit single “The Evil Has Landed” highlights the best qualities of both worlds. It sounds like something straight off a QOTSA live jam (or Them Crooked Vultures, anyone?) with quick, funk-like guitar strumming behind the screaming-eagle guitar solo.
As a whole, Villains is a piece that stands out as colossally different from anything the group has tackled. It’s certainly ambitious to add Ronson to the mix, but it pays off with an added edge that only sets the album aside from the vast majority of their catalog. It’s abundantly clear that the group wanted to expand their spectrum of sound while staying true to their tattoos and skull rings core. Take the freakabilly of a mess “Head Like a Haunted House” or the dancehall shake and twist number like “The Way You Used to Do”. Their signature winding guitar melodies are backed by driving drums and bass on “Head Like a Haunted House”, and the hallowing whistles and harmonizing guitar all throughout the chorus speaks more of vampires and black leather than not.
Villains is direct and to the point. It’s a no-bullshit-type release that explores different sounds and angles that are only uplifted by the talent of Ronson being the mixing board. Tried and true, it’s a QOTSA archetype that will more likely than not stand out among the rest as something that’s as classic as it is unique.