NEW AL­BUMS

Queens Of The Stone Age hit the dance­floor. Ar­cade Fire and The War On Drugs re­turn. Plus Steven Wil­son and more.

Mojo (UK) - - Contents -

There’s a case to be made for bands be­ing forced to quit af­ter five years. Josh Homme wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily dis­agree. “The first three records – that’s where the drive is,” he said in 2011. Hav­ing al­ready re­de­fined mil­len­nial heavy rock with their sec­ond, 2000’s Rated R, Queens Of The Stone Age’s third al­bum was the mon­u­men­tal Songs For The Deaf: he­do­nis­tic, rue­ful, steeped in melody, grind and pop nous – a real oh-shit-how-do-we-fol­low-that? state­ment. The band’s next three records felt like ex­er­cises in try­ing to jus­tify con­tin­ued ex­is­tence, with vari­able re­sults. Line-up tur­moil – a QOTSA con­stant; drum­mers a spe­cial­ity – meant only Homme re­mained for 2005’s Lul­la­bies To Par­a­lyze, and he didn’t di­verge far enough from the beaten track, whereas 2007’s Era Vul­garis ca­reered ma­ni­a­cally without set­tling any­where too re­ward­ing. There fol­lowed a six-year gap un­til 2013’s …Like Clock­work; in the in­terim Homme pro­duced Arc­tic Mon­keys and formed Them Crooked Vul­tures with some­time QOTSA drum­mer Dave Grohl and Led Zep­pelin’s John Paul Jones. Al­though more plau­si­ble than its pre­de­ces­sors, …Like Clock­work was dense, clogged with name cameos – Trent Reznor, Jake Shears, El­ton John – and found Homme con­flicted be­tween clean­ing up his act or cling­ing to the Sturm und Drang that any­one with Grohl on per­ma­nent drum standby would be loath to forego. But with Vil­lains, Homme has fi­nally dis­cov­ered a new design: arid and me­chan­i­cal yet swing­ing, and im­pelled by for­ward mo­men­tum. Opener, Feet Don’t Fail Me has Homme declar­ing like a shaman: “Me and my gang come to bust you loose.” There is quin­tes­sen­tial QOTSA swag­ger, but re­fracted through fresh eyes. …Like Clock­work was a downer, clearly dragged from a trou­bled place, its emo­tional wounds patched with bom­bast. Vil­lains, in com­plete con­trast, feels un­bur­dened. Feet Don’t Fail Me urges us ever on­wards: “Fu­ture tense meets mid­dle fin­ger/We take the long way home.” The ob­vi­ous cat­a­lyst is Mark Ron­son, the first in­stance of Homme ced­ing the pro­ducer’s role on a Queens al­bum to any­one be­yond him­self or his Joshua Tree in­ner cir­cle, let alone an elite New York-English pop au­teur. Ron­son’s cool, beat-for­ward style proves a per­fect fit for a band built upon the pri­macy of repet­i­tive rhythm, as well as Homme’s dropped-note polka riff­ing, all of which reaches crit­i­cal mass on The Way You Used To Do, an ode to in­fer­nal amour

“IT SCREAMS FOR TWINKLETOED JOSH AND HIS DEATH’S HEAD HONEY TO JIVE THEIR WAY TO OBLIV­ION.”

which sim­ply screams for twin­kle-toed Josh and his death’s head honey to jive their way to obliv­ion. Choos­ing Ron­son log­i­cally dic­tated a shift away from re­verb-heavy melo­drama and to­wards the shak­ing of butt. The record has an equally im­por­tant touch­stone closer to home, how­ever. Feet Don’t Fail Me struts forth on a locked groove wor­thy of Cap­tain Beef­heart – a desert al­chemist from a pre­vi­ous era – spliced to the same Zep-funk in­ter­face that pow­ered Them Crooked Vul­tures’ Gun­man. Yet it ar­rives only af­ter a 100 sec­ond fadein, emerg­ing like an alien ab­duc­tion from a tor­ture cham­ber, with scrapes, tribal chants and an eerie synth melody echo­ing a Homme vo­cal on Iggy Pop’s Sun­day from 2016’s Post Pop De­pres­sion – pro­duced and co-writ­ten by Josh Homme and also fea­tur­ing QOTSA’s Dean Fer­tita. On tour, the PPD band pre­pared to take the stage by lis­ten­ing to Na­tive Amer­i­can ‘pow-wow’ mu­sic; now the prim­i­tive begets the new model Queens. Iggy’s Bowie-pro­duced clas­sic texts are vis­i­ble as palimpsests across Vil­lains. One of the al­bum’s plan­gent de­tours, Hide­away soars on peal­ing key­board and gui­tars flushed with the same in­gen­u­ous hurt as Tonight. There’s the pure Fun­time ro­botic groinage and gauche sax­ophony of Un-Re­born Again. More gen­er­ally, Homme’s gui­tar tre­ble is baked to Thin White Duke lev­els of ex­trem­ity. Homme has de­scribed Vil­lains as an oa­sis “from the bull­shit of the day”. Cer­tainly, its es­capist mo­ments are grab­bers, but the giddy at­mos­phere doesn’t equate to a mind­less party. From its open­ing self-as­ser­tion – “I was born in the desert, May 17, in ’73” – on­wards, Feet Don’t Fail Me is an an­them in de­fi­ance of ba­sic harsh truths: “Life is hard that’s why no one sur­vives/I’m much older than I thought I’d be.” Do­mes­ti­cated An­i­mals, a men­ac­ing re­frac­tion of ar­che­typal Homme eastern over­tones, pon­ders rev­o­lu­tion­ary rhetoric: “You won­der, where’s the free­dom?/In the lost and found”. Homme’s root gui­tar sources are the two Jims, Hen­drix and Page, and it’s their in­su­per­a­ble union that makes penul­ti­mate track The Evil Has Landed per­haps the most pre­pos­ter­ously ex­cit­ing Queens Of The Stone Age song ever. Sprung from a frisky falsetto’d premise – “Go­ing on a liv­ing spree/Any wanna come with me?” – it zings on an ever-mu­tat­ing Black Dog riff re­boot un­til segue­ing into a whole new song as Homme’s blunt in­junc­tion – “Here.We.Come.” – her­alds a clas­sic QOTSA end­less boo­gie. Ku­dos here and through­out to mon­ster drum­mer Jon Theodore, who on his first full al­bum surely pum­mels his name onto the stool for the du­ra­tion. For a fi­nale, Homme falls into the sa­cred em­brace of the heart. Vil­lains Of Cir­cum­stance is a lip-quiv­er­ing let­ter home from a wan­der­ing soul, the sort of song that usu­ally winds up kitchen-sinked to obliv­ion. So credit for its spare treat­ment here, with vin­tage synths splash­ing in and out at the de­noue­ment, serv­ing to un­der­score Vil­lains’ clever­est trick: it’s both or­ganic and fu­ture-fac­ing. A true meta­mor­pho­sis, this al­bum sees Queens Of The Stone Age shed­ding an old iden­tity to dis­cover new ways of play­ing the same song. Homme had al­ready done more than any­one of his gen­er­a­tion to pump new heart into rock. Now with an un­likely ally, he’s revived the soul too.

KEY TRACKS Feet Don’t Fail Me The Way You Used To Do The Evil Has Landed Un-Re­born Again

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