Sound — 9
Though already well established, the past few years for Josh Homme have displayed a significant growth spurt for his resume as a musician and producer. After releasing Queens of the Stone Age's long-anticipated sixth album, "...Like Clockwork," to well acclaim (as well as being the band's first album to debut at #1), Homme would also revamp his garage rock project Eagles of Death Metal, co-founded with frontman Jesse Hughes, just a couple years later with 2015's "Zipper Down." And a year after that, Homme had finally revealed his cardinal role as collaborator and producer for Iggy Pop's most recent album, "Post Pop Depression," working alongside fellow QOTSA guitarist Dean Fertita and Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders on the record.
Now presenting QOTSA's seventh album, "Villains," Homme seems to draw some sonic influence from the other projects he’s worked on in the last few years. As opposed to the previous "...Like Clockwork" standing out for its increase in ballad-driven songwriting, QOTSA are more rough and tumble this time around. Compositionally, the extra helping of fuzz on the guitars is what's responsible for this heightened garage rock sound, and Homme's robust guitar solos continue to satisfy (see "Un-Reborn Again" and "The Evil Has Landed"), but more particularly, the retro swagger of "The Way You Used To Do You" and the energetic, riff-filled "Head Like A Haunted House" feel stylistically influenced by EODM to an extent.
This garage rock flavor may be the first thing that sticks out, but other aspects of "Villains" also make it an album that's somewhat inspired by prog rock. A recurring use of modular synths gives songs like "Fortress" and "Hideaway" some classic prog rock artsiness to go with the beefy guitar power, and the split time signature used in "Domesticated Animals" is a clear example of a thinking man's rock music. But more than anything, the amount of diligence shown in the songwriting is what makes "Villains" such a smart album. The trifecta of guitars by Homme, Fertita, and Troy Van Leeuwen are meticulously layered to run in their own different but cooperative ways, and Michael Shuman's exceptional bass riffing increases the polyphonic deftness even further, heard in the groovy "Feet Don't Fail Me Now," "The Evil Has Landed," and the ever-shifting closer "Villains Of Circumstance."
Lyrics — 8
Also being a contrast to the dirgelike nature of "...Like Clockwork," Homme's lyrics in "Villains" show an uplifting arc from his previous pensiveness. Wearing an appreciation for life on his sleeve with a bit of surprise that he's still going strong ("Life is hard, that's why no one survives / I'm much older than I thought I'd be" in "Feet Don't Fail Me Now"), Homme doesn't lose sight of the trials and travails that weather everyone ("We're all a little tangled / Corroded and mangled, yeah" in "The Evil Has Landed"), but his voicing of the ability everyone has to overcome it ("Everyone faces darkness on their own / As I have done, so will you" in "Fortress") is a proper, albeit obvious, lesson of resolve that was missing from the previous album.
The positivity may be the most defining quality, but Homme still takes some time for social criticism in "Villains." From ridiculing peoples' susceptibility to feeling more important than they really are in "Un-Reborn Again" ("I had a vision as clear as day / Delusions of grandeur in our DNA") and the average tradeoff of autonomy for conformity in "Head Like A Haunted House" ("Drink the Kool-Aid and swallow the pill / You say that you don't and you won't, but you will"), to mocking the lack of follow-through people have when acting like they will change the world in "Domesticated Animals" ("Get right up, kneel and bow / Where's your revolution now?"), Homme's still got the necessary vitriol to call out the bullshit when he sees it.
Overall Impression — 9
The level of mindfulness in the songwriting of "Villains" makes the album another successful entry for QOTSA's catalog, and a great example of how meticulous one can make rock music without it becoming too pretentious. Whereas the previous "...Like Clockwork" focused on offering more than the visceral rock sound, "Villains" displays Homme's ability to execute numerous ideas in each song while ultimately maintaining a vigorous rock energy. This end result of a sound that pays strong to detail and packs a strong punch is why QOTSA continues to be one of the most impressive rock bands working today.