For better or worse, Josh Homme has always been himself. Whether with Queens of the Stone Age or on his many side projects, his fans have come to expect the unexpected. Perhaps the biggest surprise, was to listen to their new album, Villains and feel like these songs could have been released by the band a decade ago. It’s not quite as experimental as previous Queens of the Stone Age efforts, but none of that matters; it’s groovy, it’s brilliant.
If any other band had gone so far back into their roots, they might be accused of running out of ideas, but Villains doesn’t feel like that at all. Homme has brought the band back to this well-trodden ground because they really know what they’re doing, and that makes all the difference. There’s a great complexity to each tracks’ arrangements; “Head Like a Haunted House” contains multiple guitar tracks weaving fantastically in and out of each other. “The Way You Used to Do” works an infectious groove out of a deliberately uncomfortable rhythm, and “Un-Reborn Again” is a perfect example of Homme’s brilliant lyrical absurdity.
The songs themselves are generally groovy while they are not exactly new, are made exciting by how brilliantly they are put together. The band’s more experimental side can be found in between the tracks; grumbling synths and ominous string quartets often serve as lead-ins to songs, though they rarely invade the main bulk of the song. Exceptions to that come towards the end of the record, with the synth-led “Hideaway” and the final track “Villains of Circumstance”, a sprawling, ambient experiment that’s perhaps a little too long, but creates a brilliant atmosphere that you can’t help but get lost in.
The Queens of the Stone Age occupy a strange space that has both widespread and niche appeal. Balancing the artistic integrity of such an experimental band with the mainstream acceptance they have can be difficult. Villains represent a solid way of making that balance work; it’s accessible without being overly generic and intelligent without being too pretentious. Homme did not bring his band back to its roots for an easy ride; the effort put into this record is obvious. Filled with stadium-packing riffs and not lacking in brilliance and wit, Villains is an all-out fantastic record.