Meet: Villains, a la Queens of the Stone Age
“I don’t want to fail you/So I’ll tell you the awful truth/Everyone faces darkness on their own/As I have done/So will you” sings Josh Homme during “Fortress.” Sounds surprisingly profound for a band that often sings the praises of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll more than it does facing down darkness.
“If your fortress is under siege/You can always run to me/If ever your fortress caves/You’re always safe in mine,” follows up Homme. What is this? Homme sounds almost compassionate here. I don’t know about you, but I’m a little confused on what’s so villainous about Queens of The Stone Age’s new album Villains. I’m also a little taken aback by the constant reference to just how “danceable” the album is. Everyone from Rolling Stone to NME is celebratory to an almost masturbatory decadence over how dastardly danceable Villains is. It’s almost as if they’ve never heard of that little secret weapon that propels rock music, which was originally a very dance oriented genre to begin with. The backbeat on Villains is hard and fast. It’s not just hard and fast though. QOTSA’s backbeat guitars and drums are perpetually hard and fast for the most part. It’s slick now, and sharp.
There’s nothing villainous about the music, just as there’s nothing villainous about QOTSA. In fact, it’s their newfound love of the slinky smooth backbeat which serves as the perfect weapon to beat back life’s villains, be it the “darkness” Homme sings about on “Fortress” or the “evil” that’s landing in “The Evil Has Landed.” “Life is hard, that’s why no one survives/I’m much older than I thought I’d be/Feel like a fool, yeah, like a dancing fool, yeah/Foot loose and fancy free.” Those aren’t the words of the man who’s lived long enough to be the villain. Those are the words of a man who’s beat back his villains.
“Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” the song from which the preceding lyrics are taken from, sports a funky guitar groove that slides over top of an almost delayed (i.e. funky) drum backbeat. It’s “danceable” in the way that Little Richard and Fats Domino were, and just as dangerous. The same goes for “The Way You Used to Do.” Again though, what’s so startling about that? This is rock n’ roll, remember? A genre with its source rhythm derived from African polyrhythms which were designed to dance to is going to be filled with “danceable” moments. The fact that these rhythms are so prevalent all over Villains is most likely due to producer (and DJ) Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Adele). Yeah, the dude’s got an ear for rhythm and dance tunes, but it’s the elevation of the danceable aspects of QOTSA’s backbeat, not the insertion of them, that Ronson is responsible for.
It’s this elevation that gives Villains its uplifting sound, which in turn meshes well with Homme’s flirtation with joy and positivity on the album. It’s a marked departure from just about everything on “…Like Clockwork.” Even the psychobilly romp, “Head Like a Haunted House,” sounds strangely…joyful…between its 1950s echo and sci-fi tinged twangs.
Finding joy in a QOTSA’s album isn’t as hard as one might think, but it’s never been as easy as it is on Villains. Sometimes you have to see through the darkness, even that of the devil’s hands, as Homme does on the album’s cover, to really find the light. It might end up being fleeting, but these Queens are here to shake and rattle as well as rock n’ roll and dance like, but not with, the devil. Enjoy it while it lasts. QOTSA are still evil, but in the sense that Evil Knievel was, and that’s a good thing.