Hmmm…where shall I begin? Perhaps with a preface: I am a huge QOTSA fan. And toss in an epitaph at the top for good measure: I do not like this album.
Josh Homme has said that he only intended for Queens to be a three-album band—a statement obviously disproven by their seven album discography. I’m going to go on record and say that this record probably shouldn’t have been made.
I was nervous when I learned that Josh and the lads had employed the production services of Mark Ronson, a man arguably best known for his work with Bruno Mars. “Is this going to sound like a damned disco/dance-pop album,” I asked myself. The answer is a plain and simple “yes.”
You can still hear hints of Homme’s earlier works: odd time signatures here and there, falsetto vocals, odd microphone placements, “room-tone,” and a very intricate mix (whomever polished this turd at the mixing console deserves a paid vacation). But if you’re looking for the churning riffs of big guitars from the band’s earlier work, you aren’t going to find them here.
Tiny amplifiers dominate the guitar tones of this album. Don’t get me wrong, tiny amps offer a very unique and distinctive sound and I’ve used them on plenty of my own recordings. But if it’s all you’re using on a record, it’s gonna sound like a talented teenager practicing in their bedroom.
The closest thing to a cool riff is on the second track and lead single “The Way You Used to Do,” which strikes a chord of irony for me given that I just want my old QOTSA back. It has a wonderfully tex-mex shuffle worthy of a ZZ Top tune (no surprise given that Homme has collaborated with Billy Gibbons in the past), but it’s trapped in a soggy, sinking shoebox in an ocean of synthesizers.
Queens have always used synths, but sparingly and atmospherically. Throughout Villains it’s like watching Bob Moog do cocaine at an after-hours private nightclub: it’s kinda cool, there’s energy in the air, but everything just seems hollow. Because it is. Even the coke has gotten cut so many times (probably by Ronson) that there’s nothing “organic” about its Peruvian roots anymore.
I’m trying to find something to like about this record. The best I can come up with is: it sounds interesting on headphones. If you’re looking for something poppy/dancey yet mildly dark (we’ll call it “twilight”), maybe you’ll groove on it. But even the drums sound as if they’ve been gated up the ass and the bass-lines leave no lasting impression. If you’re looking for the band that has melted my face eight different times in concert through the powers of rock, it has ducked out to use the toilet.
Bands are allowed to grow—that’s a part of the artistic process. You try new stuff. Growth is what I love about QOTSA. Every time I saw them live, songs that I loved would be explored, expanded, and improvised upon until it became a completely new tune, but it would still rock. Villains doesn’t strike me as growth. Instead, it’s a blind leap into the deep end of the unskimmed synth-pop pool without fully knowing how to swim.
And now I will dry myself off with Songs for the Deaf (2002) and pretend that this album didn’t touch my “bathing suit area” in a bad way.
Notable Tracks: “The Way You Used to Do”