Traditionalists had The Beatles. Baby Boomers got the best of Pink Floyd. Generation X was all about Michael Jackson. And with the recent release of Villains, rockers Queens of the Stone Age have become the best band of the Millennial generation.
I remember where I was when I first heard Songs for the Deaf, and that sort of Proustian precision is usually reserved for traumatic events like 9/11 or the Oklahoma City Bombing, or major achievements in sports, like the Minnesota Twins winning the 1991 World Series.
The deep red color and clever design of the CD caught my eye while flipping through a friend’s CD case during a high school tennis meet. I thought the sperm entering the egg forming a “Q” was a pretty cool logo and asked my friend and occasional doubles partner what kind of music it was. “You should just listen to it,” he said. So I did, over and over again, all the way home, until my friend had to remind me to give him the disc back when our bus pulled up to the high school.
I remember thinking after a second time through Songs for the Deaf that it was the best and most complete rock album I had heard since Van Halen’s 1984, and the first good concept album since Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I bought a copy for myself that very day and listened to it almost exclusively throughout the summer of 2003.
I might have been late to the party since Songs for the Deaf was released in August of 2002, but better late than never. Since then, QOTSA has helped me through my parents’ divorce (Songs for the Deaf), homesickness and the general depression that results from a school year in Seattle (Lullabies to Paralyze), a serious motorcycle accident that nearly took my leg (Era Vulgaris), losing the love of my life (...Like Clockwork), and now, entering the twilight of my youth. Villains makes me feel young again, and might feature two of QOTSA’s best ever songs.
The record opens with the catchy single “Feet Don’t Fail Me,” and the sound shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s ever heard QOTSA before. It’s reminiscent of the stoner rock sound that propelled QOTSA’s popularity through the number-one, U.S. modern rock track “No One Knows.” With the exception of an 1980s, synth-sounding keyboard, “Feet Don’t Fail Me” sounds like a song from Songs for the Deaf, but that doesn’t mean QOTSA didn’t attempt to progress rock ‘n roll by blending genres.
“The Way You Used To Do” is the crowning achievement of Villains and, perhaps, Joshua Homme’s career as a musician. From Desert Sessions to Kyuss to QOTSA to Eagles of Death Metal to Them Crooked Vultures, you’d struggle to find a song comparable to “The Way You Used To Do.”
Who knew blending swing and rock would work so well? Only Homme. The big band, swing song wrapped in rock ’n roll is one of the best songs QOTSA has ever cut and one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. My best friend from high school said it “feels like somebody strapped a rocket to my ass.” I saw my first QOTSA show with him, so every time they release a new record, we invariably rave about it for a month through text messages.
Side A of Villains concludes with another solid, trademark QOTSA song with a fat bass line. “Domesticated Animals” features the eerie guitar and vocals reminiscent of Era Vulgaris’s “I’m Designer,” but the funky guitar fills and synth keyboard adds an element that contributes to the song’s overall danceability -- which was something for which Homme and the band was striving with Villains, and achieved more often than not. Side A of Villains was the only thing that spun on my turntable over a 24-hour period. It might be one of the best A-sides ever.
“Fortress” kicks off Side B and is the only Villians song I could do without. “Head Like a Haunted House” picks up right where “Domesticated Animals” left off, though, providing another dance track thanks to some synth keyboard fills and old-fashioned, rock ‘n roll tempo.
QOTSA lets the new synth sound take center stage with “Un-Reborn Again” while preserving the traditional, bluesy sound of QOTSA’s past. Even some violins make their way onto the track. “Hideaway” continues the throwback, ’80s sound that’s so popular right now, and is the Villains song that best utilizes Homme’s voice.
Side C of Villains features “The Evil Has Landed,” where you won’t find any synth keyboard. It’s just old-fashioned QOTSA -- deep, fast bass and perfectly eerie electric guitar carrying the song to a crescendo to which you can’t help but dance. “The Evil Has Landed” is rock ‘n roll deep down to its core and does much to remind people that rock ‘n roll is a dance party genre -- impending death be damned. The music sounds like what the lyrics say: “Going on a living spree / Plenty wanna come with me / You don't wanna miss your chance / Near-life experience / Faces making noise / Say, be good girls and boys / It ain't half empty or full / You can break the glass, or drink it all / Dig it.”
Finally, “Villains Of Circumstance” brings Villains to a close in epic fashion. The lovely, six-minute love song is a fitting, semi-slow-dance ending to an album built on high-tempo, dance tracks with clap lines. It’s no “Another Love Song,” but that’s because QOTSA has evolved since 2002.
As far as ranking Villains amongst QOTSA’s prior releases, I’d say it’s no Songs for the Deaf or Era Vulgaris when it comes to completeness, but probably better than ...Like Clockwork and Lullabies to Paralyze. When it comes to the hits, though, only Songs for the Deaf compares.
Here are my personal top 10 favorite QOTSA songs to provide further explanation as to why they are the best band of my generation, and why Villains is an indication that QOTSA is only getting better with age.
It’s hard to take a day off when your job consists of writing about exactly what you want to write about whenever that inspiration strikes. I’m usually inspired to write something daily, but sometimes a vacation can go a long way in refreshing your thoughts and disconnecting your brain from all things work. That’s why I went vinyl record shopping on Sunday.
Vinyl’s comeback is no secret. I’m 31, and while my parents had a record player and used it often when I was a kid, I didn’t get into records until more recently when I started listening to them with friends. It became a kind of ritual. After our days listening to radio at work, whether traditional or online, and mp3s from our phones during our commute, we needed some art we could touch -- something tangible.
The quality of a vinyl recording is far superior to that of an mp3 or CD, too. I don’t care what anyone says. You can’t have better quality if you don’t capture everything in the first place. A digital recording does not capture the complete sound wave, while an analog recording does. That’s why Robert Plant’s voice sounds so much better on vinyl, because nothing is lost.
What I love most about the vinyl comeback, though, is the act of purchasing music. I went out looking for a few specific things on Sunday. After hearing The Blues Brothers’ “Briefcase Full of Blues,” I wanted to focus on buying records that featured horns, so basically anything by Chicago or my favorite band in middle school, Huey Lewis and the News. I know, I’m a throwback, but Back to the Future was one of my favorite movies as a kid, and I’ve always been a sucker for horns.
Did I find what I sought? Not really. Did I care? No. And I still ended up buying four records on Sunday.
Starting at Know Name Records in Bloomington, I discovered a bunch of records I’ll eventually buy, but the one I decided I had to have that very moment was Buddy Holly’s “Gold.” The sleeve was in terrible shape, but the vinyl looked great, so for $8 I took it home. I figured it would be one I’d never sell anyways, so what do I care what the sleeve looks like. If it plays it’s worth eight bucks. What motivated the purchase? I had just seen a Buddy Holly impersonator in Las Vegas with my dad and realized how great that man was despite not giving him a lot of play throughout my life. Now I can replay that show in my living room whenever I want.
Since I didn’t find what I sought, I went to Roadrunner Records in Minneapolis, where I immediately found the soundtrack to The Blues Brothers movie for another $8. No Huey Lewis and the News in the building, but at least I found some horns.
I walked into Extreme Noise in Minneapolis without knowing what to expect. The staff was incredibly helpful right from the start, so instead of walking in and looking around, I was immediately asked if there was something specific I was seeking.
“Yeah. Huey Lewis and the News’s ‘Sports,’” I said. The staff member smiled.
“Yeah, I don’t think we’ll have that one. Maybe Roadrunner Records would. You should probably be able to find it for two bucks anywhere.”
“I just came from there. What do you guys specialize in?”
“We have punk and metal mostly. We probably have who you’ve got on your shirt.” I was wearing The Menzingers’ concert t-shirt I bought when I saw them in Seattle. More importantly, though, I had stumbled upon music-buying bliss. I could spend an entire day in this store and not find everything I want to buy. In fact, everyone in the store, even shoppers, helped search for the sleeve for The Screeching Weasel’s new album “How to Make Enemies and Irritate People.” It was a fantastic shopping experience.
I also took home the album that probably made me a punk the moment I heard it -- Dead Boys’ “Young Loud and Snotty.” I might never listen to it in any other format again because the record sounds absolutely fantastic. It’s as close to seeing a Dead Boys’ show as I’ll ever get. Upon hearing the first side of the record, I posted this on Facebook with a picture of the record: "Strangely, the best I've felt listening to music."
It was one of the most pleasurable Sundays I’ve had in some time, and the Minnesota Twins lost that day. It will probably become a bi-weekly adventure. I’ll get my paycheck and head down to the record stores, grabbing long lost classics and new punk records that will gain value over time. Because what’s the point in buying art if it’s not worth anything more than a listen once in awhile?
Editor’s Note: I will publish a review of some of the most underappreciated records of all time as a follow-up to this piece.