It might not be fair, or just, or right, or good, but this is the way it is. Albums are not judged objectively. Hopefully, this isn’t heartbreaking news to you. Hopefully, you know that humans are emotional creatures, and in the case of albums, we are very easily influenced by the past and present. Music does not exist in a vacuum. When new music Friday comes around, people are impacted heavily by their mood and the events of the day.
The way we hear an album is affected also by the state of the artist or band and the current state of music. Not sure what I mean? Take release day August 25, 2017 for example. While people were clamoring to comment on the new Taylor Swift single and video, the 36-year-old indie-leaning rockers were poised, breath bated, with our fingers on the ‘download’ button for two new releases: Queens of the Stone Age’s Villains and The War on Drug’s ‘A Deeper Understanding.’
Both albums from bands with strong leads and a group of changing and shifting backing members. Both albums from bands whose names are fun to replace with acronyms – QOTSA and TWOD. Both albums from bands that have been on the scene for years but saw their biggest success and highest accomplishment from their prior release. For Queens, it was 2013’s ‘… Like Clockwork’ that fully endeared me to the band. The album was flawless front to back. For The War on Drugs, it was 2014’s ‘Lost in a Dream’ that was interlaced with sprawling, driving tracks.
Since people are biased music listeners, appreciators, and reviewers, the new material is battling against the expectations of the previous releases, the T. Swifts of the world, and each other. There are only so many hours in a weekend. How many can I spend listening to music? Who will win the war of my cochlea?
Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
After dropping two singles in recent weeks, Queens had me salivating with a vibe that picked up right where ‘… Like Clockwork’ left off. A creatively, eccentrically, tongue-in-cheekly set of tracks, Villains offers 48 minutes of signature Josh Homme. Thier’s power chords driving the guitar-heavy songs with lyrics that describe a blend of upbeat remorse. At once, mourning the past and happily awaiting the future by mixing moods the way great songwriters do.
Like ‘Songs for the Deaf’s’ twisted trip around the radio dial, ‘Villains’ is best enjoyed as an album rather than a group of singles with tracks often floating from the previous and bleeding into the next. The hand-clapping second track ‘The Way You Used to Do’ is the obvious single offering mainstream rock chops with ‘The Evil Has Landed,’ a 6:30 tempo-changer that takes the listener on a journey, representing more of what QOTSA is doing on the album.
- ‘Feet Dont Fail Me’ sets the album off with Homme reflecting on how far he’s come and hoping he’s got more left in the tank.
- ‘Domesticated Animals’ speaks on the challenges of revolutions with syncopation and call and response. Best lyric:
- “Head Like a Haunted House’ offers up a nearly Beck level of nonsequitur lyrics that sound cool and are fun to sing along with.
- ‘Un-Reborn Again’ revisits feelings from the lead track. Youth and aging. Living and dying.At nearly 7 minutes, the track laden with strings and horns covers the confusion of getting old. We’re all “drowning in the fountain of youth.”
- ‘Villains of Circumstance’ takes us through the sadness of missing your love “separated by geography” while staying optimistic and reaffirm his devotion to the special person in his life. The perfect closing track.
Full of strong tracks, compelling tone and lyrics, ‘Villains’ is quintessential Queen’s.
The War on Drugs – ‘A Deeper Understanding’
The tracks that I enjoyed most from ‘Lost in a Dream’ were tunes like ‘Under the Pressure’ and ‘An Ocean in Between the Waves’ that were upbeat with a relentless head-nodding effect. Turns out these songs were the exception rather than the rule. As a dug deeper into The War on Drug’s catalog, I was confronted with sleepy and subdued tunes. This album worried me a bit.
My trepidation increased with the first single ‘Holding On,’ which felt more relaxed and less energetic than I was hoping. The second single that followed, ‘Thinking of a Place,’ was much more of the same but slower. The album – slow and soft with lyrics that are too frequently incoherent due to a Dylan-esque delivery. This is perhaps the biggest shame of the album because Adam Granduciel had a lot to say on ‘Lost in a Dream’ and I wanted to hear it here. I couldn’t, though.
The album sounds nice. If I was drinking red wine by a fireplace, putting on ‘A Deeper Understanding’ makes a lot of sense. But I don’t drink wine and it’s summertime. I wanna rock while I’m 36 years young. The newest from The War on Drugs just rolls me to sleep.
And this is the crux of my argument. Had ‘A Deeper Understanding’ been released in the winter, on a day where I was feeling more pensive, or on a day that a driving, thoughtful album from Queens of the Stone Age was not also released, I would likely dig deeper into TWODs.
But this is what we have when we have it. With the limited number of hours and opportunities given to listen to music, ‘Villains’ by Queens of the Stone Age is the clear winner.
Consume.Review.Repeat. gives ‘Villains’ by Queens of the Stone Age 8.7 revolutions out of 10.
Consume.Review.Repeat. gives ‘A Deeper Understanding’ by The War on Drugs 6.1 marbles in the mouth out of 10.
I should note that I believe the TWODs to be more of a slow burner, so more listens are needed.