Josh Homme knows how to play Devil's Advocate. "Feet don't fail me now," he howls on Villains' snarling opener. "One foot in the gutter / One in the clouds." He's got that traditional Queens of the Stone Age guitar grunt backing him, but the song also has room for a dance floor-filling stomp, spacey synths and a Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie freak out.
It's a great first-up throat clearer, but Feet Don't Fail Me Now is also a pretty clear signpost about where Homme and his Queens are at. They have, of course, always flirted with demons. But on Villains, their seventh album, and first in four long years, their struggle between good and evil takes centre stage. Or, as Homme puts it: "Stand in the gutter / My head's in the clouds."
Homme appears to be wrestling with more than most. At times on Villains, he can't decide whether to fully embrace those Elvis Presley hips of his, or break into a total Rated R rampage. "You can break the glass, or drink it all," he declares on The Evil Has Landed, a song that starts with Led Zeppelin force and lyrics sung in falsetto, and ends with the album's most blistering chug and a Songs For the Deaf-style solo.
Yes, there's plenty of Queens grunt on Villains, but there are also synths, falsettos and quite a few "do-do-doos" sprinkled throughout. Much of that hip-swinging spirit can be attributed to Mark Ronson, the producer responsible for albums by Amy Winehouse and Bruno Mars. Here, he's the perfect foil for Homme's louder tendencies; the angel, perhaps, sitting on one shoulder. As a result, Villains is Queens' most varied album yet. Try Head Like a Haunted House, which sounds like a better, weirder version of Swedish punks The Hives, or Fortress, a super-soothing Sunday road-trip kind of song. Then there's Un-Reborn Again, a sludgy synth-metal grindfest and the best moment on Villains, an album full of good bad times.
On the last track, Villains of Circumstance, it ends with a ballad that builds a spiralling staircase into the sky. Or maybe it's digging a tunnel into the ground. As Homme puts it: "I better do something / Move earth and sky." Whichever way he's going, he's taking those demons of his along for the ride.
Queens of the Stone Age - Villains
Verdict: Another day, another dance with the devil