Sound — 9
Queens of the Stone Age is a Californian alternative/stoner-rock band, which has one of the richest discographies in the last decades, the band, which studio projects are characterized by the unique style, which is always recognizable. The band's lineup has been always changing with only Josh Homme, musician, singer, songwriter, and producer, as the permanent member. Except Josh Homme on vocals and guitar, the lineup also includes Troy Van Leeuwen on guitar, Dean Fertita on guitar and keyboard, Michael Shuman on bass guitar and Jon Theodore on drums. In fact, all these people took part in the recording of the previous band's album "...Like Clockwork".
For nearly 20 years of the band's existence the sound has changed a lot and evolved from being heavy and typically-southern to more accessible, melodic, and mainstream. The tendency of becoming the band, that provides albums with not only guitar music, got evident on the new album's predecessor. Now that's just the fact - we can hear beautiful string arrangements and background synths throughout "Villains", and there's even a place for glam-like sax parts on the track "Un-Reborn Again", though the album sound is still dominated by catchy guitar riffs and noisy solos, creative and unexpected hooks and bridges, swinging basslines and heavy drums. This diversity of instruments and parts of the songs can be explained with every-song's complicated structure - the average length of the tracks on the album is 5 minutes. And though the structure is hard to understand, we can't deny the fact, that we can hear all the layers of music, every sound and every movement, because the production on "Villains" is great. Homme's vocals on this album reach emotional peak, sound pleasant, soft, and sweet sometimes, though at the same time Homme often turns back to more dynamic, aggressive, and hysterical style.
As you see, "Villains" contain the most atypical material, the band has ever recorded. The fact, that QotSA, which is already famous for being stoner/heavy-music-oriented band, take the risks and successfully deal with them by combining different influences, allows us claim that this record is, at least, one of the strongest in the band's entire discography. It shows and proves a lot composing and artistic talent of the members of QotSA.
Lyrics — 8
"Villains" sounds consistently both musically and lyrically. Both sides of the record are united by the main feature of it - by maturity. And this high level of maturity is shown throughout the record, especially in the lyrics and the persona of Josh Homme. Villains is a straight follower of its predecessor, "...Like Clockwork", on which Homme explored topics of loneliness, depression, emptiness, isolation. "Villains" is different, but it's like a sequel, like a gulp of air after the sinking. This album is the album of the 44-years-old man, who knows, what Life is, who has a wife and three kids, who overcame depression. And you believe him. The evident massage of the majority of the songs may sound naïve: keep moving, listen to yourself, listen to your desires, you'll never be young again, no matter, how hard you try, so, just go on, otherwise the villains and the demons within your haunted-house-like head will commit "screwacide" and leave nothing behind you. And it would sound empty and senseless, if it wasn't Josh Homme and if there was no "...Like Clockwork" back in 2013.
Moreover, Homme filled the lyrics with autobiographical facts ("I was born in the desert, May 17 in '73...", "When I first met her, she was seventeen...") and facts about the people around him (just listen to "Un-Reborn Again"), or, for example, the song "Fortress" is a great metaphoric track, with strong emotions and sincere message, addressed to his children. His lyrics are sometimes narrative, usually metaphoric, several times Homme even created words to explain his feelings. The meaning may be evident, but the way, that Josh expresses it, is delightful. And even the mutualism between the music and the lyrics is enjoyable a lot: songs with vital message are energetic and dynamic and the love-songs or ballads are beautifully arranged and sound epic. There's a strong logic and correlation between them.
But the main indicator of Homme's maturity is one of the most straight-line tracks on the entire album - "The Way You Used To Do". At first glance, it's a usual love-song in the cover of sticky guitars, swinging sound, rock'n'roll atmosphere. But the fact, that the man dedicated this song to a woman, who "gave birth to monsters, who will terrorize normalcy", and that the man will "bury anyone, who confines them", is adorable. And even the only moment, when music stops, and the drums beat like heart in silence during the phrase "So, lay your hands across my beating heart, love", shows us, how much creativity and talent is behind that record. This is truly a high level of songwriting and maturity.
Overall Impression — 9
So, musically "Villains" is one of the most extraordinary albums by QotSA so far. It's provided with both extremely dynamic and catchy guitar epics and orchestrated, beautiful, slow-tempo ballads. The band took different influences - late-'70s Bowie for synths and vocal performances, dance-punk on "Head Like A Haunted House", Led Zeppelin-like riff on "The Evil Has Landed", dance-music, swing, rock 'n' roll - and created the radio-friendly mixture of it all. There's a lot of experience and years behind it, and that's why it is, definitely, the most mature record. It's not as emotionally strong and astonishing as its predecessor, "...Like Clockwork", but it's still sincere and convincing, it's something, that is totally different.
But the main achievement of the record is that on Villains Josh Homme creates a new image of himself - an image of a loving Husband, of a wise Father, of a strong Man, who overcame the crisis, a Man, who's getting older and giving it up. Josh reinvents himself as an artist, and this is the main indicator of the strong and talented personality.