John MacLeod || May 21st
It doesn't seem five minutes since, on a piping hot May afternoon, I was sitting in my drummer's car and excitedly playing her 'My God Is The Sun', the first single from Queens Of The Stone Age's then-forthcoming album '…Like Clockwork'. Turns out, though, it was 2013. And now here we are, during a similar heat wave four years later, and QOTSA have just put out the first single from their now-forthcoming album 'Villains', entitled 'The Way You Used To Do'.
This song is everything it should be - slick, melodic, loaded with mean riffs & tight drums. Josh Homme's vocals are dialled to "Sweet" for this particular outing, but we all know he can belt it out when the need arises. He doesn't need to here though, subtlety is the watchword.
It's a love song, definitely, and there's an almost rockabilly feel to it, but there are moments (both lyrically and musically) that twist it from a 'traditional' paean to romance, for example "Is love mental disease or lucky fever dream? / Fine with either…" and the eerie moment where all the music cuts out save for the sound of a pulsing heartbeat underneath the lyric "So lay your hands across my beating heart…". The narrator of this song seems to be unconvinced as to whether or not love is wholly positive ("Jump like an arsonist to a perfect match / Burned alive…" suggests an act of self-immolation, quite accurately, in all fairness), but is absolutely sold on his life choices, regardless.
So what do we think this means for 'Villains'? One thing QOTSA has always done is evolved, they've never stayed in the same place too long. There is a clear path of development from their self-titled debut to now. 2013's magnificent '…Like Clockwork' gave birth a new sound for QOTSA, along with lyrical themes that had never been explored by them, in light of Homme's near-death experiences during routine surgery, and this record was emotionally darker, more vulnerable, and more somber than their previous outings. During the making of it, they lost long-time drummer Joey Castillo, and gained The Mars Volta's Jon Theodore ('Villains' will be his first full recorded expedition with the band). Homme had gone so far as to describe '…Like Clockwork' as the beginning of "QOTSA Phase 2".
'The Way You Used To Do' sounds revitalised and less battle-scarred than songs from '…Like Clockwork', and to me this indicates a return to the party of albums past, but still with an eye on the darker sounds of their last record. Their continued relationship with artist Boneface is indicative of this (his artwork seemed to capture the tone of '…Like Clockwork'), as is the unusual soundscape that fades in at the song's final two or three seconds. This is a development of the "QOTSA Phase 2" that Josh Homme talked about in 2013.
There's a possibility that we may even see a bit of political commentary on the album, as the band were very vocal in putting out a not-quite-complimentary statement after the election win of Donald Trump last year (in full here: https://instagram.com/p/BP1ZVatBNmV/), and song titles such as 'Head Like A Haunted House', 'The Evil Has Landed', or 'Villains Of Circumstance' could be quite pointedly aimed at The 'Fascist Clown Penis' In Chief. This is entirely conjecture, of course, but it could be quite amazing if we were about to witness the first ever QOTSA protest record…
TL;DR: I love the new song, and I like where this is going.