03. Villains (2017)
Go with the Flow: Fans loved …Like Clockwork, but for Josh Homme, the renewed interest signaled a vested interest in doing something different, maybe because it featured neither his best tunes nor his best riffs. So Villains, the band’s first album in four years, markedly aims for both and comes closer to succeeding than anything else he’s done since Songs for the Deaf. It also attempts something new at the same time: danceable tunes, inspired by producer Mark Ronson.
Song for the Deaf: What kind of Queens of the Stone Age album would this be without a nearly seven-minute theatrical jam like “Un-Reborn Again?” Except this time it’s played on synths.
Covered in Hair: If the close-miked, sun-fried backwards-then-forwards riffing of “The Evil Has Landed” doesn’t break your brain, you may already be part vegetable.
Turnin’ on the Screw: Six-minute closer “Villains of Circumstance” may have been kicking around for years, but we finally get to hear this unusually brooding shuffle in all its rippling, Tears for Fears-aping glory on Villains. Homme’s tempered vocal sounds positively vampiric, yet it’s hard to break the spell.
Feel Good Hit of the Summer: Well, it sure ain’t reluctant at this point, but with guitars processed so unrecognizably they squelch like synths and with handclaps practically begging for David Lee Roth, first single “The Way You Used to Do” bounces quickly into view and stays there. And here you thought “No One Knows” was a fluke.
Lightning Song: It’s hard to deny the sheer kinetic force of opener “Feet Don’t Fail Me”, whose chords jump up and down like fucking Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams” or something. Queens have claimed to groove for years, but this is something else: an anti-gravity stampede. It ushers in the true comeback album that …Like Clockwork only lived up to on paper.
02. Songs for the Deaf (2002)
Go with the Flow: For most fans, this is the classic. It’s got the hits (“No One Knows”, “Go with the Flow”), the videos (same songs), the conceptual through-line (those faux radio DJ interstitials), and most importantly, a revolving chamber of bandleaders besides Homme to do the heavy lifting he’s attempted at his peril for the last 15 years; Nick Oliveri and Mark Lanegan handle two of the absolute best tracks, as they did on Rated R. But it still folds inward from the previous album, reducing the promise of a far more interesting and eclectic band to a handful of killer choruses (“Do It Again”, “The Sky Is Falling”), riffs (“No One Knows”, “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire”), and an epic or three (“Song for the Deaf”, “Mosquito Song”). They’re checking off boxes rather than creating new ones, and just because most every song is good doesn’t mean more than a handful are great. And then they even stopped checking boxes.
Song for the Deaf: Six minutes of “God Is on the Radio”, per usual with this band’s six-minute odysseys, is too many, even if the Zeppelin-esque blues riff here grounds it and hypnotizes you for at least half its runtime. But it’s indicative of the slight decline in this album’s overshooting.
Covered in Hair: The lovely closer, “Mosquito Song”, gives a whole new generation its “Planet Caravan” and adds folksy accordion to boot.
Turnin’ on the Screw: Surprisingly, the Gary Glitter stomp of “Do It Again” gives way to one of Josh Homme’s sliest deliveries. The chorus is even more seductive, and wow, is that a great bridge, too? The man’s got a hell of a falsetto when he wants to use it.
Feel Good Hit of the Summer: Everyone knows this one, and it deserved every dollar of its MTV and rock radio reign in 2002. “No One Knows” is a tight, forcefully chugging classic driven as much by its unexpected guitar fills as Dave Grohl’s virtuoso pounding. It’s not hard to see why this tune alone drove people to call Songs for the Deaf the masterpiece it isn’t quite.
Lightning Song: While Deaf’s got plenty of strong moments, it never really improves on that opening one-two of Nick Oliveri’s planet-incinerating “Millionaire” and Homme’s baby, “No One Knows”. The Mark Lanegan-sung laser beam that is “Hangin’ Tree” is one of its more unsung high points, though.
01. Rated R (2000)
Go with the Flow: Josh Homme isn’t a genius, but he nailed a sound and market share coveted by many, and unlike similarly positioned heroes like Muse or the Black Keys, he actually did have one magnum opus in him. Rated R is one of the best rock albums of the 2000s and one of the most excellently produced ever. It’s shrewdly edited, boldly written, funny as fuck, and (take note, everything that’s come since) every single track feels completely different. Homme went to great lengths for this multi-faceted monolith, and it helps that it’s not all his baby. Nick Oliveri carries just as much of the artistic burden on his bracing contributions, which even include a great ballad that for some reason was never released as a single (“Auto Pilot”). There isn’t a wasted second on Rated R, and that’s saying a lot for two stoners from the desert who’d yet to show anything resembling discipline.
Song for the Deaf: Every song on Rated R is a marvel, even the two-minute tantrum (“Quick and to the Pointless”) and the two-minute instrumental respite (“Lightning Song”), but it’s the circus-like closer, “I Think I Lost My Headache”, that will stone you immaculate, particularly as the rock band winds down into a swamp of confused brass, who blow on until the record ends.
Covered in Hair: “Monsters in the Parasol” is the reason this category exists, a montage of paranoid visions delivered with the wryness of Primus and the sure-footed drive of the Ramones. “I seen some things I thought I’d never saw/ Covered in hair,” goes one of Josh Homme’s most memorable lines ever, and you wonder why he never entered this psychedelic-comedy mode ever again, aside from some smirking song titles.
Turnin’ on the Screw: You try not having a down-low tryst with Homme after he debuted his ghostly high range on minor hit “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” over that palm-muted crunch and those chilly vibraphones.
Feel Good Hit of the Summer: This band’s downright loveliest song by a gigantic margin is the near-uncategorizable “In the Fade”, which is almost a funk-lite R&B song, sung by Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan of all people. None of the people involved ever made a song this poppy ever again, which is a shame, though it’s not hard to see why they might have felt they could never repeat it. Skeptics of this band should proceed directly to this song, if only to hear what they had the potential to do more of. But “In the Fade” is a left-field classic and deserves every bit of the praise heaped on “No One Knows”.
Lightning Song: Nirvana had “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, the Ramones had “Blitzkrieg Bop”, and Queens of the Stone Age managed to come up with a theme song shorter than the latter and with fewer chords than the former, while impressively having markedly fewer brain cells than both. No one else could’ve come up with “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”, the greatest seven words Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri, and Rob Halford will ever recite. The skull-melting mini-solo in the middle, the piano plinking, the Rocky Horror-esque backup choir, and that very first joyfully deadening B chord, all in the service of “Nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy, and alcohol / C-c-c-c-c-cocaine.” It’s a sight to behold, for the ears. It’s rock’n’roll in its filthiest and funniest form.