By chance or by design, Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme has rarely been out of the limelight since the band's last album, 2013's . . . Like Clockwork. Whether playing guitar on Lady Gaga's Perfect Illusion, leading Iggy Pop's backing band, guest as Carrie Brownstein's gay brother in a Portlandia sketch, or, most soberingly, providing support for his Eagles of Death Metal bandmates following the Bataclan attack, Homme has found himself part of mainstream entertainment and front-page news, unlikely scenes for one whose name was once synonymous with heady excess and bristling machismo.
Of course, QOTSA always did infectious melody without fully embraced pop. Enter Mark Ronson. Villains, their Seventh album, achieves what . . . Like Clockwork attempted but couldn't nail: successfully straddling the line between rock and pop, at once camp and butch, light and heavy, appeasing long-time fans and flirting seductively with new ones.
In isolation Homme's gushing approval of Ronson's Uptown Funk is a head-scratcher. In practice, the Londoner's role as coproducer is the missing piece in the crossover puzzle. Adding swing and swagger, Ronson helps the five-piece dance (literally in the case of the video for The Way You Used to Do) their way through these nine songs, simultaneously adding a splattering of panoramic synths to proceedings.
Still, the QOTSA essence remains. Sharp hooks, crushing riffs, locked-in grooves and Homme's sneer dominate The Way You Used to Do, Feet Don't Fail Me and The Evil Has Landed.
As well, the barely audible "woof" and stand-to-attention hand-claps on Domesticated Animals and the random whistle on the lightning-speed Head Like a Haunted House (think T Rex, if T Rex had been a garage rock band) are wonderful ear-catching moments, the kind of whip-smart production flourishes the Queens have always excelled at. The guitars and squawking saxophones of Un-Reborn Again channel the band's inner diamond dogs, while, Villains of Circumstance is a slow-build closer that borders on anthemic.
Which leaves Queens of the Stone Age where exactly? An ever-growing fanbase, an enviable legacy and a free pass onto the red carpet – without appearing remotely compromised. Villains? More like bad guys turned good. qotsa.com