Showing a willingness to take surprisingly bold risks.
The one mission statement that Josh Homme and Queens of the Stone Age has long established was to never make the same album twice. Four years after their strongest effort yet, ...Like Clockwork - Queens have taken another left turn at Albuquerque and continued this tradition with Villains - a wholly unexpected yet warmly familiar album produced by pop-maestro Mark Ronson.
The naming of Ronson as producer was a surprise, first and foremost because being one of the biggest producers in the industry doesn't often afford the anonymity of recording an album in secret, and when the announcement came, the album was already completed.
The second surprise was the pairing of Ronson with the band in the first place. When you hear Queens of the Stone Age are recording a new album, I promise you, the first name that comes to mind to produce won't be the guy that's worked with Adele, Amy Winehouse and Bruno Mars.
But the thing is, that way of thinking does the music a disservice. Instead of asking "why?", shouldn't we be asking "why not?"
It boils down to this - upon first listen, this is very clearly a Mark Ronson album. Crisp, sharp production. A clean breezy summer sound. But what's remarkable is that this doesn't detract one iota from the fact that it's still very much a Queens of the Stone Age album. That beautiful jangle and twang of Homme's guitar met with a cool, confident swagger and wink.
Where ...Like Clockwork was Homme's Lazarus album - a crawling out from the brink of death opus, Villains is his joyous celebration of life and he wants us all to celebrate with him. The cynics and detractors will moan about the calculated upswing in tempo, but these are probably the same detractors that have been crying for a Kyuss reunion since 2002. Time to evolve, desert folk.
What's evident from the first track, "Feet Don't Fail Me", is that Homme is ready to shake his ass and leading into first single "The Way You Used To Do" shows he wants us to shake our asses right along with him.
"Domesticated Animals" and "Fortess" takes us off the dance floor for a brief spell, but only long enough to grab a drink and cool down a bit before "Head Like A Haunted House" with its rockabilly strut has you cutting a rug all over again.
"Un-Reborn Again" slows things down a bit with some keyboard-cool languidity courtesy of Dean Fertita - long the unsung hero of the band who is sure to get his due this time around. This song is sure to be one of the highlights of the live set.
The album also marks the first full recorded debut of drummer Jon Theodore. The band has always been notoriously hard on drummers and working with Ronson in the studio is sure to give even the most seasoned skinsman a workout, but Theodore is effortless in the pocket here - giving each song exactly the amount of thumping it needs.
Autumn is almost here, but before the weather starts to cool and the long sleeves come out, Queens of the Stone Age are here to make sure Villains sets the pace for a gloriously hot Indian summer.
8.4 / 10
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