LP Review: Queens of the Stone Age, ‘Villains,’ Pure Hard Rock Groove

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I should go on vacation more often… I leave town to visit the in-laws and a slew of new music gets released. I’m not sure if I’m willing to suffer through another one of those trips even if it does mean a lot of new music… I can only take so many for the team, folks. I know I’ve been posting quite a bit lately but with all this great new music, I’m lucky just to keep up. As my buddy Matthew said to me when I was in Denver, “I can tell this is your passion…” Indeed.

One album I was really looking forward to hearing was ‘Villains’ the new QotSA LP. I absolutely loved the first single, “The Way You Used To Do” reviewed previously on B&V (Queens Of The Stone Age Release New Single, “The Way You Used To Do,” And Save Rock n Roll). My friend Drummer Blake says Queens are too musician-y for mass consumption but I tend to disagree. Yes, these guys are such master craftsman it would take an actual musician to understand what they’re doing sometimes but their last few records have been catchy as hell.

I had an odd introduction to QotSA… I was driving in my car and for once I was tuned into the local alternative rock station, “The Buzz.” When I was growing up, if a new album came out by a big band, the DJ would scrap the programmed stuff and drop the needle on the new vinyl. You could hear a brand new record the day it came out just by turning on the radio. In these days of pre-programmed, corporate owned radio stations, you’re not gonna hear that happen much any more. Hence, I’ve given up on terrestrial radio… Anyway, this DJ, Afentra announces they’ve got the then new Queens’ LP, ‘…Like Clockwork’ and much to my surprise, she played the whole album. I had to pull the car over. What I heard that day blew my mind. ‘…Like Clockwork’ plays to me like a Pink Floyd record, you need to hear the whole thing together as a suite. Well, almost, I can listen to “If I Had a Tail” or “I Sat By the Ocean” or even “My God Is the Sun” and enjoy it, but listening to the whole thing is the best way to experience it.

‘…Like Clockwork’ had a murky, ominous feel to it. Josh Homme, the leader and only permanent member of Queens had just survived a knee surgery that went bad, where his heart actually stopped beating. Then he suffered from a horrible auto-immune infection afterward. ‘Clockwork’ sounds like an “airing of the grievances” kind of album, especially “Fair-weather Friends.” I was blown away. Although I shouldn’t have been surprised, I was a big fan of Homme’s work on Iggy Pop’s ‘Post Pop Depression,’ that came out shortly afterwards. That was an inspired pairing, QotSA and Iggy… Homme brought out Pop’s best music in years. (Review: Iggy Pop, “Post Pop Depression”)

Naturally, hearing ‘Clockwork’ sent me back in their catalog. I landed on ‘Songs For the Deaf.’ Holy crap, that thing is a hard rock masterpiece. The album practically shrieks out of the speakers at you. Although the guitars are hard and loud, they’re kind of droning. It’s hypnotic in a way. “No One Knows,” “Go With the Flow” and “First It Giveth” are amongst my favorite tunes. Comparing ‘Songs For the Deaf’ to ‘…Like Clockwork’ is virtually impossible… It’s hard to believe those two records came from the same band… What can’t these guys do? With all that as a backdrop, I was looking forward to the new album, but I  had literally no expectations.

I read recently, probably in Rolling Stone that Josh Homme doesn’t want to hear anybody say that rock is dead. He’s willing to punch record company guys in the face if they so much as hint that they think it. Homme is a pretty big guy… best we not test him on this. However, seeing him in the Eagles of Death Metal documentary, “Mon Amis” I think Josh is a pretty good, stand-up guy…he’s certainly a good friend to have… but still, I don’t want him to punch me but I do worry about rock these days. I must admit, when I heard he’d hired Mick Ronson, who has produced Bruno Mars to helm this project, it raised an eyebrow for me. Is this going to be QotSA’s ‘Emotional Rescue’ or “Miss You,” a foray into dance music? I tried to imagine QotSA doing a hard edged “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”… the horror, the horror. I needn’t have worried. Rock will always be safe as long as Josh Homme is around.

The first two tracks on this album “Feet Don’t Fail Me” and “The Way You Used To Do” are big rocking tunes that groove. Yes, you can even dance to them if you’re so inclined. Myself, I gave up dancing years ago… paramedics always seem to try and force wood between my teeth when I do… While I love both those tunes, I really like the song “Fortress.” “If ever your fortress caves, you’re always safe in mine” sounds like the encouraging words of a father to a son. It’s a mid-tempo thing with a great guitar riff. The drumming on this record is sensational… I don’t know if it’s Homme or Jon Theodore who is listed as the QotSA drummer these days. Troy Van Leeuwen is listed as guitarist, Dean Fertita is on keyboards, and Michael Schuman is on bass. I’ve always thought of Queens as more of a musical collective than a band…

“Head Like a Haunted House” almost sounds like a harder rocking B-52’s song. There’s a great variance in the styles on this short set of nine tunes. Gone are the ominous, dark tones that graced ‘…Like Clockwork.’ QotSA are ready to party on this record. I don’t know how many times I’ve reviewed albums on this site and said, “well, this album is great, but you can’t really play it at a party…” This album, you can definitely play at a party… Well, I could, but most my friends are music nuts like I am. “Un-Reborn Again” is another stylistic turn and almost sounds like glam rock… the cadence of the lyrics are almost Bowie-esque. Well, I say that until he actually quotes the Georgia Satellites in the middle of the song. It’s that kind of “fuck all,” freewheeling album. This is fun music.

“Hideaway” is another standout track near the end of the record. It sounds like a modern spin on the Animals or the Zombies. It has that 60s guitar/keyboard vibe to it. It’s another great tune with a groove. I imagine a bunch of people on tequila dancing the Swim to this track. Yet even with all the groove I get from this record it most definitely still rocks. The guitar sounds go from fuzzy to beautiful leads all in the same tune.

“The Evil Has Landed,” which was the second single released prior to the LP, is probably the hardest rocking thing here. It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘Songs For the Deaf.’ I love the riff on this thing. Homme’s lead guitar on this track is probably the most impressive on the album. “Close… come close…” he repeats… No thank you, Josh.

The album ends on the soaring “Villains of Circumstance.” It’s a great way to end the record… I can’t tell if it’s a love song to his wife or to his kids. (One might theorize that the titular ‘Villains’ Homme references might be his children…) It’s a wonderful tune and leaves me feeling 180 degrees different from how I felt after ‘…Like Clockwork.’ It’s impressive that a rock band/artist can put out such a wonderful variance of moods, tones and songs yet still keep that hard rock/guitar heavy sound.

This one gets my highest recommendation. It’s hard, it rocks, it grooves, it does a lot of different things. Turn this one up loud, invite over some friends, pour some tequila, mute the football on the TV and have a ball!

Cheers!

 

Queens Of The Stone Age Release New Single, “The Way You Used To Do,” And Save Rock n Roll

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“But it doesn’t matter now
Just come and love me how
Like the way you used to do
Yeah”

Well, just as I went on record as saying Dan Auerbach’s light, strummy tune, “Shine On Me” was my “jam,” as my daughter would say, for the summer, The Queens Of the Stone Age come storming back with their new single “Like You Used To Do.” I have bad news for Mr. Auerbach… I have a new summer song, er I mean, “jam.”

We last heard from the Queens Of The Stone age in 2013 when they released the amazing album, ‘…Like Clockwork.’ I was actually driving in my car when a local DJ, Afentra on 96.5 the Buzz played the whole album the day it was released. That was so old school, my respect for Afentra jumped off the scale. Nobody plays an entire new album on the radio any more. I was impressed. And this from a man who believes terrestrial radio is dead. I immediately bought ‘…Like Clockwork’ and it remains one of my favorite records. It’s a dark record, written after leader Josh Homme had suffered a near death experience in the hospital. It’s powerful stuff. I can point to a number of strong songs on it, but I like to listen to it the way I discovered it, as a piece. It’s like a Pink Floyd record in that the themes and tone of the music hold together so well, you can listen to the entire album all at once.

In the long, four year interim since ‘…Like Clockwork’ Josh Homme has not been idle. He co-wrote and produced the astounding late-career gem ‘Post Pop Depression’ for Iggy Pop, reviewed earlier on B&V. QOTSA also provided the backing band for Iggy on that record and I highly recommend it. Josh was also part of the Eagles of Death Metal’s return to Paris to play the Bataclan. In the HBO documentary, ‘Mon Amis’ Josh and Jesse Hughes’ friendship is front and center to the story. My respect for Josh doubled, if that was even possible.

After all of that activity, Josh finally pulled the QOTSA back together for their new album, out in August, ‘Villains.’ The first single, “Like The Way You Used To Do” came out this last Friday and I love this song. It’s built around a nasty, greasy, fuzzy riff, bass drum and hand claps (if you can believe it). This would be a great song to play as a football team comes out on the field. Or when a futbol team hits the field… pick your sporting event. There’s always that moment right before the game starts or before the team hits the field when your individual excitement joins that of the collective crowd excitement and your heart soars… that’s the moment for this song. When I hear that riff and those hand claps, I find myself suddenly on my feet, moving around the room.

I love the lyrics as well. The song is about a relationship… it sounds like a modern day Bonnie and Clyde who met in high school… I love the line, “Is love mental disease or lucky fever dream?” I’ve often asked myself that same question. Well, until I met the Rock Chick, that is.

There’s been some great new music that’s come out lately but I needed some hard rock music for the summer and nothing really scratched that itch. I heard this song and the first words out of my inarticulate mouth were, “Fuck, yes!” I can always count on the QOTSA to save rock and roll! My drummer friend Blake says they’re way too much of a  musician’s musicians band, but I defy you put on “Like The Way You Used To Do” and not feel the power of rock n roll!

Put this one on, turn it up to 11, and enjoy this by the pool! I can’t wait for ‘Villains’ out late August.

Cheers! (and please use sunscreen folks, tan skin is not healthy skin).

Review: Iggy Pop, “Post Pop Depression”

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 I won’t lie, this one took some home work. There are some artists I just think you have to be “ready” for as a listener. Either it’s a maturation of your tastes, or a change in your thinking that causes the re-evaluation of the artist, or maybe something just “clicks.” For me, it’s often just one song by the artist that I happen to hear (usually on satellite radio) and it causes me to completely reassess the artist’s entire catalog. Something about the artist crystalizes for me.

I have not traditionally been an Iggy Pop fan. You won’t find me, like Anthony Bourdain recently, strolling down Miami Beach, shirtless with Iggy, whilst in whispered, almost religious terms discussing the meaning and influence “Raw Power” had on my adolescent years. This either makes me unqualified to review this album or uniquely qualified to judge it on it’s own merits. Again, it’s about that timing thing. Someone gave me a greatest hits package of Iggy’s a few years ago and I was largely unmoved. I guess I just wasn’t “ready” for Iggy. I was always more a fan of punk rock’s effect on music in the 70’s, pushing the existing artists out of their mid-seventies malaise, than the actual punk music itself. Over the years I’ve gotten into the Ramones, but only mildly. I love the Clash but they were more of a great rock band with a punk ethos to me. I always feared punk music would sound like a cat in blender… I was terribly wrong about that. I love the stripped down, primal energy of punk rock. It’s lack of polish is often the best part of the music. Rock music, like all art, needs to be dangerous.

In parallel, I was never really into the Queens of the Stone Age. I do respect their “musician’s band” ethos. I was in my car a few years ago, and a local DJ had just received a copy of QOTSA’s “…Like Clockwork” album and she was playing the entire thing, start to finish. Afentra, the local DJ (truly the last great DJ on air), couldn’t contain her excitement. She’d stop the album after each song and talk about what she’d just heard. It was real old school DJ style. I loved that record and went out immediately and bought it. There are some stand out songs on that album, but like a Pink Floyd record, it feels better when you listen to it as a whole vs just a song at a time. An event like that would usually send me on a buying spree through the entire QOTSA catalog, but I don’t why, I just never investigated them further. I now know I must rectify that omission. Maybe I wasn’t ready for them either…

I must admit, my new interest in Iggy Pop and “Post Pop Depression” was piqued because of his connection with David Bowie. Bowie was one of the Stooges and Iggy’s early fans and benefactors much like he was with Lou Reed. He produced Iggy’s two first solo albums, “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life” and many of the reviews and articles about this record have referenced Bowie and Iggy’s relationship and collaborations. I have a huge soft spot for Bowie right now, I’m still not over that loss, much like Prince. Since many have suggested similarities in those early Bowie-produced albums and “Post Pop Depression” I felt compelled to go back and listen to them, in order to have a frame of reference for the current work.

Collaborations are a funny thing. I don’t think you ever find any collaboration to be a 50/50 proposition. Maybe some of the early Beatles compositions were really John and Paul trading lines but that quickly faded. Dylan dominated his collaborations with the Band. So too are these Bowie/Iggy collaborations. First and foremost, I have to say both of those early albums, “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life” are, and I don’t say this often, fucking brilliant. I don’t know how I missed these records. You didn’t hear a lot of Iggy on the radio in Kansas. However, I would say “The Idiot” sounds more like Bowie was the lead collaborator. I’m not suggesting Iggy didn’t contribute, but he’d just come out of a mental institution and was regarded by many as a foot note and was probably not in the most confident place. “The Idiot” feels like Bowie leading Iggy out of the wilderness. “Sister Midnight” immediately sets the tone for this superb album. I like Iggy’s version of “China Girl” as much as Bowie’s later version. Iggy’s second record with Bowie at the production helm, “Lust For Life” feels more like Iggy was driving the car. It’s louder and more rocking. Iggy sounds more confident on this record. It has more of a Stooge-y feel to it. Their both great, but you can tell whose influence was stronger on each album. “Tonight,” from “Lust For Life” has a great Iggy rant before the song starts that Bowie later described as “idiosyncratic” but it’s a stronger version than Bowie’s version done years later.

Which all leads me to “Post Pop Depression.” This is a great, great album. I must say, the choice of Josh Homme and QOTSA as collaborators was an inspired one. While I said earlier that most collaborations are generally lopsided, this one feels equal parts Iggy and equal parts Queens. The music is muscular and rocking, although nothing really as hard as the Stooges. The lyrics are dark but provide a giddy pleasure to listen to. Iggy brings a brilliant subversive element in his lyrics. You can hear the “fuck you” sneer in his vocals. After an up-and-down career, Iggy brought his A-game to this collaboration. When he says, in “American Valhalla,” a stand out track, “I’m nothing but my name,” you believe him. The album kicks off with “Break Into Your Heart” and this album really does that. “Sunday” captures some of that atmospheric, cold funk that the Bowie-produced albums captured. “Chocolate Drops” is my favorite song here. I can’t stop humming that song. I love it when a mature, established artist comes up with an album this fantastic.

In the last song, “Paraguay,” Iggy sings about dropping everything and moving off to be alone and it is awesome. “Tamales and a bank account are all I need, so count me out.” I think we’ve all been there. The end of the song turns into a rant from Iggy. He says, “There’s nothing awesome here, not a damn thing.” If this is, as has been rumored, Iggy’s last album, it’s a hell of a goodbye. I can totally relate to that song, on levels I’m afraid to admit to myself. Although I don’t think Iggy will ever be just a “basic clod.”

The thing that was so rewarding for me in this experience was going back to those early recordings, “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life” to frame “Post Pop Depression” and I can say this record holds up very well in comparison. You don’t need to do that to enjoy this record, but it was sure fun to do so. I grew up in Kansas, “The Passenger” was not in high rotation so this allowed me to make up for that. Sometimes when an artist puts out a late career gem like this one and you realize you’re finally “ready” for them, it can be a wonderful thing. Now I have the glorious duty of going back through not only Iggy’s catalog but the Queens Of The Stone Age catalog as well… It’s going to be a fun summer.

I can only hope Iggy has at least one more collaboration with the Queens Of The Stone Age left in him… I’d sure like to see these guys work together again. It’s a Hell of an album. This one is a strong, strong recommended buy.

So, buy this album, turn it up loud, pour something strong, stage dive from the couch, break something glass and Enjoy!

Cheers!