It’s hard for established bands to take risks in the landscape that is 2017 in music. Especially when your band comes attached with a cultural cache like Queens Of The Stone Age, on album number seven, with love from the critics, indie cred, and what amounts to major label distro. Having conquered many frontiers as a headliner, but still looking for the challenge, QOTSA teamed up with hit-making pop and dance producer Mark Robson to create what would become Villains (Matador). Ronson’s name comes with little to no background in the greasy stoner rock the band is known for, but rather for putting Amy Winehouse, Adele, Lady Gaga and the ubiquitous (for better or worse) ‘Uptown Funk’ with Bruno Mars on the map to the tune of millions in sales.
Will this drive purists crazy?
Could this work?
Should this work?
Yes, and in the best possible way.
Shooting for a blend of classic QOTSA stoner grooves and danceable rock flavor of the 1980s and 90s, Villains makes its mark as one of the best albums the band has ever done. Every track rocks and sways sexily, every track an undeniable earworm. All killer, no filler. Except for a handful of songs and perhaps a few choices of beats, there is no pop sheen, no fluffy gloss on a single track by Ronson. Making the beats snap, and the synths share mix space with slinky riffs is what he pitched in. His main contribution is and immaculate, crisp recording which doesn’t filter this band through his lens, as much as a meeting of the minds.
From the opening groove of ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’, the rock of ‘The Way You Used To’, and the fresh feeling ‘The Evil Has Landed’, it’s all classic QOTSA, in a way that feels inventive and new. My initial vibe was that of an 80s Queen album, like The Game. Why can’t rock music be danceable, and not be offensively bad in 2017? I guess it hasn’t been done all that well for a long time, or veered too hard into pop realms for rock fans to dig it.
Every track is excellent with a some of the longer ones being the best ‘Un-Reborn Again’ might be the unheralded best track here, even with its winking nod to Georgia Satellites‘ ‘Keep Your Hands To Yourself’. I should hate that on principle, but I love it. ‘Fortress’ and final track ‘Villains of Circumstance’ will take their place alongside some of the best tunes this band has had to offer to date.
One of the best 2017.