It's clear when listening back to Queens of the Stone Age’s ’98 self-titled debut that Josh Homme and his revolving line-up of cohorts have come a long way since the days of simply smashing desert rock and nihilistic stoner metal together to chaotic effect. The band’s back catalogue depicts a solid timeline of progression through the mainstream and out the other side to 2013’s …Like Clockwork – an album that personified the intricate and minor-keyed inner workings of Homme’s brain. The album pushed the boundaries of what fans considered to be Queens of the Stone Age’s M.O., whilst garnering rave reviews from critics. With Villains, we find the band picking up almost exactly where the last album left off, with several notable exceptions. It was revealed earlier in the summer that for the first time in QOTSA’s history, Homme would be relinquishing complete control of the mixing desk over to British pop producer Mark Ronson – a man who recently made headlines not for the production of a new Tool or Smashing Pumpkins record, but for helming the Bruno Mars-fronted summer anthem ‘Uptown Funk’.

Gone are the bleak pastoral soundscapes of tracks such as ‘The Vampyre of Time and Memory’ and ‘Kalopsia’ (for the most part); first single and mood setter ‘The Way You Used to Do’ is an out and out hip-swinger of a track, complete with synth-y bass and clap track. In a way, ‘The Way You Used to Do’ is exactly what we expect it to be; it simultaneously sounds exactly like a Queens of the Stone Age song, whilst also managing to be new and revitalising. It’s nothing short of wizardry listening to Homme and Ronson plant a hit-machine-esque clap track literally right at the heart of the song, without it sounding chintzy.

You get the feeling that if other bands of the same ilk had tried something similar, the torches and pitchforks would be at the door before the amps were turned off. It’s exactly this “fuck you, I’ll do what I like” attitude that fuels the successes on Villains. Of course, just because the tempo is up and Ronson is behind the desk, that in no way negates the sinister overtones we now expect as standard on anything Queens of the Stone Age put their name on. The album literally opens with the echoes of some other worldly guitar twiddling fading into a pulsing synth that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Kubric film, especially when partnered with Homme’s distant wails. As the song swells, the bubble breaks into a bolshie bass-driven riff propelling Homme’s lyricism chronicling his love of dancing and debauchery. “When the needle hit the groove, I commenced to move,” he sings in what can only be described as an aural grimace. “Feet don’t fail me now, one foot in the gutter – one in the clouds.”

Fourth track ‘Fortress’ brings us back to the familiar sounds of …Like Clockwork, and is undoubtedly one of the more minor moments on Villains. Whilst it does represent a small lull in the previously mounting energy of the album, its steered upward once again by the trashing rockabilly-inspired ‘Head Like a Haunted House’. Whereas the now iconic guitar tone synonymous with the QOTSA brand still features heavily on just about every track on the album, those looking for the thundering riffs of Songs For the Deaf will be somewhat disappointed with what’s on offer. The only songs that even remotely resemble the “I do coke in the toilet of Brixton Academy and then break noses in the mosh pit every Friday” licks of old are the stomping tracks ‘Un-Reborn Again’ and ‘The Evil Has Landed’. If this is what you’re looking for, it’s probably best to just stop there, as sandwiched between both tracks is ‘Hideaway’ – a ballad that would pass as a daytime Radio 1 hit if it wasn’t for Homme’s haunting vocals extolling the horrors of addiction.

The album draws to a close with its weakest number ‘Villains of Circumstance’– a track that squanders the emotive nature of Homme’s otherwise inspired lyricism. For the first and only time on this album, both the music and the imagery places a toe just over the line of authenticity and into the realms of cheesiness – something which definitely needs to be rectified if Queens of the Stone Age are to continue exploring the path forged by the last two albums.

Overall Villains makes solid progress in the macabre direction Homme is currently choosing to call home, but my concern is whether this is at the expense of some of their more interesting qualities. The album is definitely progress, but maybe not as much progress as those of us eagerly awaiting new music were hoping for. It’s a success of an album that any band should feel proud to have created, but whilst it might be arrogant to say it, …Like Clockwork convinced me to accept nothing short of utter genius from Queens of the Stone Age, and I’m not quite sure that I received that on Villains.