Josh Homme and Mark Ron­son make dance-rock theatre. By Peter Watts

UNCUT - - New Albums -

JOSH Homme has al­ways en­joyed tweak­ing the nose of genre and gen­der. It’s why he called his band Queens Of The Stone Age, a the­atri­cal at­tempt to sub­vert the ma­cho ten­den­cies of the hard-rock world. His lat­est wheeze is to ask pop heavy­weight Mark Ron­son to pro­duce Vil­lains, QOTSA’s sev­enth al­bum. It’s sim­i­lar to the mad logic that re­sulted in El­ton John (“The only thing miss­ing from your band is an ac­tual queen,” he told Homme) ap­pear­ing on …Like Clock­work, but the re­sults are far more en­joy­able. Vil­lains is all swing­ing dance-rock and at­mo­spheric vul­ner­a­bil­ity, with Ron­son lock­ing a se­ri­ous groove to the Queens’ Grimm Brothers gothic ar­chi­tec­ture. For much of the propul­sive first half of the al­bum, QOTSA find a sur­pris­ingly wel­come bal­ance be­tween Black Sab­bath and disco.

Of course, the Queens have al­ways known how to swing. Even in their rock­i­est era there was the swag­ger of Rated R’s “Mon­sters In The Para­sol” and the ro­bot-rock groove of “No One Knows”, with Homme grad­u­ally in­creas­ing that as­pect of his band’s sound through fluc­tu­at­ing line­ups and a grow­ing fond­ness for synths. With Dean Fer­tita join­ing Homme and Troy Van Leeuwen around the time of Era Vul­garis, QOTSA gave us “Bat­tery Acid” and “Turn­ing On The Screw”, while 2013’s oth­er­wise gloomy …Like Clock­work fea­tured a cou­ple of Homme’s dan­ci­est num­bers yet, a pair of Bowie-in­debted glam-funk floor­mash­ers in the shape of “Smooth Sail­ing” and the de­li­ciously pervy “If I Had A Tail”.

Homme is a show­man, and with Ron­son that’s been di­alled up to the max. “I like to dance, man,” he said to ex­plain Ron­son’s pres­ence – the pair met while work­ing on Lady Gaga’s sweaty “John Wayne” – and to Homme’s usual lyri­cal fas­ci­na­tions of sex, drugs and death you can now add danc­ing it­self. It forms the theme of party-hard open­ing track “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now”, all glammy flange and pump­ing disco bass, and more obliquely on the spacey “Do­mes­ti­cated An­i­mals”, a sly stom­per that sees Homme singing, “Get right up, sit back down, the rev­o­lu­tion is one spin round.” Sex is ev­ery­where – “all

dressed up, no-one left to blow”, he winks from be­hind a feather boa on the Roxy-like “Hide­away”, while the elec­tro-funk “The Way You Used To Do”, an ode to youth­ful ex­er­tions, is louch­eness ex­em­pli­fied.

While …Like Clock­work some­times felt a little leaden, Vil­lains flies by. That might be be­cause this is very much a band record – that’s Homme, Van Leeuwen and Fer­tita with Michael Shu­man on bass and Jon Theodore on drums – with no guest ap­pear­ances to di­lute the ex­pe­ri­ence. In fact, this is the first QOTSA al­bum since the de­but that doesn’t fea­ture any of Mark Lane­gan, Dave Grohl or Nick Oliv­eri. This ver­sion of the band is ex­cep­tion­ally ver­sa­tile – the only time they stay within their com­fort zone is on “The Evil Is Landed”, a song that could fea­ture on al­most any al­bum the band has recorded.

Ron­son is the only col­lab­o­ra­tor, and he em­pha­sises Homme’s more flam­boy­ant ten­den­cies while em­bel­lish­ing the sonic palate. He’s there on the syn­thetic hand­claps of lead sin­gle “The Way We Used To Do” and the English ac­cent af­fected by Homme on “Do­mes­ti­cated An­i­mals”, but most no­tably through a shared fond­ness for disco, glam, bass and Bowie. Key track is the sleazy, slinky “Un-Re­born Again”, which un­coils a cho­rus that leans on “He­roes” but pinches its cen­tral con­ceit from “Tele­gram Sam” while al­ways re­main­ing true to the QOTSA vi­sion. Homme’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics play against a back­drop of synth that slashes, crawls and basks, while Homme and Troy Van Leeuwen smear guitar ev­ery­where like glit­ter and sand. It’s quite a ride.

Among the theatre sit two more vul­ner­a­ble mo­ments, when Homme al­lows the dark­ness to hit the fore­ground. “Fortress”, with dron­ing in­tro weaved from Moor­ish rhythms, bridges back to

…Like Clock­work’s down­beat mood but also takes on some of the grungier el­e­ments of old. It re­quires those QOTSA rar­i­ties – del­i­cacy and sub­tlety – with Homme mak­ing an abrupt shift from smirk to sin­cer­ity. It’s a love song, with Homme of­fer­ing sup­port – “If ever your fortress caves, you’re al­ways safe in mine”, he croons. Al­most in apol­ogy, it’s fol­lowed by a po­lar op­po­site, the skro­nky punk of “Head Like A Haunted House”, a song that’s been sit­ting round since Era

Vul­garis, which sees QOTSA do a great im­i­ta­tion of Weezer and Su­per­grass via the Oh Sees. The al­bum’s final song, “Vil­lains Of Cir­cum­stance” is cut from sim­i­lar cloth as “Fortress”. It be­gins with a tun­nel of acous­tic gloom cut­ting through the am­bi­ent sounds, be­fore open­ing into a pop-rock an­them. Homme has put aside his danc­ing shoes to pledge undy­ing love, but even here – in the ex­trav­a­gance of the lyric and the show­tune sen­si­bil­ity – he’s very much on­stage, pur­su­ing rock theatre with a wink and a leer.

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