The mild dance-rock inflections on Queen of the Stone Age’s Villains offer little deviation from where frontman Josh Homme was already headed. Homme contributed heavily to both Lady Gaga’s Joanne and Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression, the latter of which brightened its brooding guitar-rock crunch with a few pop accents. If the slightest Top 40 influences have crept into Homme’s work with his own band, even the most dyed-in-the-wool rock purist should be thankful: This album’s pseudo-danceable moments add welcome wrinkles to a formula that’s otherwise begun to feel leaden.
Queens of the Stone Age has never really been known to shimmy so much as steamroll, but on Villains’s opening track, “Feet Don’t Fail Me,” they do both. The song opens with a gradual crescendo of chants and clanging guitar noise before the four-on-the-floor beat finally kicks in. The groove is as deep as the riffage is crushingly heavy. “Feel like a fool, yeah, like a dancing fool,” Homme proclaims before emitting a James Hetfield-esque “Umh!” The lyrics are tongue in cheek, but whether it makes you want to dance or head-bang, it’s impossible not to take that rhythmic wallop seriously.
“Feet Don’t Fail Me” features the album’s most potent and seamless balance of hard-rock power and danceable levity. The second track, “The Way You Used to Do,” is disarmingly nimble and jivey, while a new-wave strut subtly pulsates beneath pounding riffs and Homme’s domineering vocals on the third, “Domesticated Animals.” On these and other songs, Dean Fertita’s astral keyboards are key, allowing the band to incorporate hints of both stoned psychedelia and disco without slackening their guitarical assault.
If anything, Villains could have used more overt pop influences, as it may have resulted in more delightfully wild experiments like the closing “Villains of Circumstance,” whose sulking verses contrast with sweeping, glitzy choruses to suggest Michael Bolton as a deranged Weimar-era cabaret singer. Elsewhere, if the idea was to brighten up the band’s trademark heaviness, the jokey, slapdash “Head Like a Haunted House” certainly wasn’t the way to do it, as there’s neither a solid riff nor an appealing melodic hook to be found.
For the most part, however, Homme and company’s dueling pop-rock instincts complement one another well. For its first five minutes, “Un-Reborn Again” is standard-issue midtempo rock, but just as it starts to feel overlong, it unexpectedly breaks into a shimmering, string-drenched refrain. As with the rest of Villains, just that hint of sweetness is enough to elevate the album from the same old thing to some kind of spectacle.