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Album reviews: Queens of the Stone Age, Filthy Friends [The Philadelphia Inquirer :: BC-MUS-ALBUMS:PH]

Queens of the Stone Age

"Villains"

(Matador (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)1/2)

Since his last album as Queens of the Stone Age, 2013's "... Like Clockwork," singer-guitarist Joshua Homme watched as his other band - Eagles of Death Metal - lived through Paris' Bataclan attacks (the band played without him that night) and collaborated with Iggy Pop for the proto-punk's "Post Pop Depression" record and tour. Such circumstances didn't make Homme a hero, yet somehow they changed the chug, swagger, and stammer of Queens' stoner-rock eclat into something shinier and sonically heroic on "Villains."

Produced with Mark Ronson - the glossy soul man behind Amy Winehouse and Bruno Mars - the emotionally bruised "Villains of Circumstance," the swinging, sensual "The Way You Used to Do," and the cuttingly existentialist "Hideaway" benefit from the hit-maker's crisp crackle. But, make no mistake, this isn't pop Homme. He never needed help conjuring contagious, melodramatic Bowie-meets-Bacharach melodies revved to 100 mph metal heights with a sexy, cock-of-the-walk kick. What Ronson did was add a dash of honey and a hint of glitter to Homme's whiskeyed rock-outs and stories of ire, anarchy, age, and villains. By the time Homme & Co. (and this is his best set of Queens yet since its 1996 start) get to the lemon-squeezing bluesy "The Evil Has Landed," this team makes all of the world's scariest monsters seem tame in comparison to Homme's inner demons. - A.D. Amorosi

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Filthy Friends

"Invitation"

(Kill Rock Stars, (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)1/2 stars)

"Rise on, music freaks!" Corin Tucker exhorts in "Makers," a song about turning something vintage into something new. It could be the credo of Filthy Friends, a new group of veterans helmed by REM's Peter Buck and Sleater-Kinney's Tucker and including members of the Minus 5, the Young Fresh Fellows, and the Fastbacks (Nirvana's Krist Novoselic drops in, too). Invitation, their debut, is the sound of rock-and-roll lifers having serious fun.

Buck and Tucker, who are Portland neighbors, co-wrote the songs, and they skew towards rousing, post-punk anthems full of overt musical allusions and self-referential lyrics about the joy of music. The guitars find new twists on old Television and T. Rex riffs (on "Windmill" and "Come Back Shelley," respectively), while Tucker's powerhouse vocals veer from giddy (the REM-like "Any Kind of Crowd") to angry (the political "No Forgotten Son"). Invitation is punchy and immediate and exciting. "When the band plays, we'll sing along, boys," Tucker sings in the jaunty title track, and it's an invitation to the listeners, too. - Steve Klinge

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Ray Wylie Hubbard

"Tell the Devil ... I'm Getting There as Fast as I Can"

(Bordello (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)1/2 stars)

In "Open G," Ray Wylie Hubbard presents a song that doubles as a guitar lesson. That's no surprise: Music and the musicians who make it (including himself) have been a favorite subject of the 70-year-old, who, thanks to a late renaissance, has elevated himself into the upper echelon of sage, stubbornly individualistic Texas troubadours. And it's a subject that runs throughout his latest terrific album.

But Hubbard also likes to "puzzle over the spirits," as he puts it in "Prayer," both of the high variety ("God Looked Around") and the low ("Lucifer and the Fallen Angels," which also serves as a bitingly funny commentary on the country music business). He concludes the set with "In Times of Cold," a stark but moving contemplation of death, with Patty Griffin on guest vocals.

Once again, Hubbard does all this by conjuring his unique hoodoo, bringing even the most lofty and philosophical thoughts down to primal lyrical and musical levels, with a gut-bucket blend of blues, rock, folk, and country. "I'm not profound or perceptive," he claims in "Prayer." Don't believe it. - Nick Cristiano

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