Review: Drones - Muse
Simon Fearn Reviews Muse's latest album - and he doesn't hold back!
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The 21st Century’s answer to Queen, each release seems to mark an exponential increase in ambition and silliness. Anyone for a three-part rock symphony (the end of The Resistance) or a would-be Bond theme, featuring vocals so piercingly high they make you wince (‘Supremacy’ from the previous album)? Now the inevitable has happened: Muse have written a full blown concept album.
The band have ditched their brief flirtation with dubstep for what they describe as a ‘back to basics’ approach, which seems to involve a riff centred, dirty rock vibe (mostly). But where they’ve toned down their musical wackiness, conceptually they’ve become even more ridiculous.
The story, devised in the dark recesses of Matt Bellamy’s brain (and this is only my best guess), is the tale of a disenfranchised protagonist who is enlisted into the army to become ‘a psycho killer’, before turning against his oppressors and starting an uprising, and then going a bit nuts and nuking the rest of the world.
The menacing stomp of ‘The Handler’ is a perfect tribute to the chief villain of the piece, whilst the three minute introduction to ‘The Globalist’ sounds like it belongs in an overblown Western.
Predictably, the tangled storyline gets in the way of the music.
There’s little to recommend ‘Defector’ and ‘Revolt’, other than the fact that they’re crucial in moving the ‘plot’ forward. Meanwhile, the band are sometimes painfully literal, putting a drone raid slap bang in the middle of ‘Reapers’, and having a nuclear holocaust halfway through ‘The Globalist’. This is what we’ve come to expect from Muse, but it’s still a bit much.
What’s more, Bellamy’s lyrics have reached peak awfulness, although thankfully they’re often obscured by layers of distortion, or by simply being far too high for human hearing to register.
On ‘Defector’, Bellamy wails “I’m free from society”, and throughout the album the traditional Muse paranoia about oppression from every angle has reached fever pitch. Luckily, the oppressors are all ‘men in cloaks’ (‘Mercy’), making them easy to spot.
Elsewhere, Bellamy is a walking cliché.
In ‘Aftermath’ he soothingly sings ‘we’ve gone against the tide, and all we have is each other now’, which is a line even the most unashamed action hero would shy away from.
In an interview with Q Magazine, Bellamy spoke about how he was inspired by the thoughts of his adolescent self, and it definitely shows. These are songs originating from a troubled teenager’s bedroom, filled with the fear of losing control of yourself and the world around you, and inspired by the naïve hope that ‘you can make this world what you want’ (‘Revolt’).
This isn’t to say that the whole album is a step backwards.
Initially, Muse seem revitalised after a few over-indulgent records. The vocals and the guitars have added bite on ‘Dead Inside’, an opener fuelled by an insistent drumbeat and barely contained venom. What’s more, we’re treated to some of the meatiest riffs since the band’s early hit The Origin of Symmetry. I challenge anyone not to love the guitar riffs from ‘Psycho’ or ‘Reapers’, but by the time I reached ‘Defector’, the line of straight-rock dinosaurs was becoming a bit tedious.
The band have also discovered the power of the guitar solo, which adds a ray of sunshine to otherwise fairly naff songs like ‘Mercy’ and ‘Defector’. Seven tracks in, Muse (and to some extent, the listener) get bored of noisy rock and things suddenly become a lot weirder.
‘Aftermath’ starts off with some atmospheric guitar twanging and orchestral strings, before becoming a nauseating lullaby. Following this, 10 minute epic ‘The Globalist’ is probably what ‘Knights of Cydonia’ would have sounded like if it failed to acknowledge its own silliness.
Finally, the band wraps things up with an adaptation of a 16th Century chorus in which Matt Bellamy is transformed into a church choir. It has to be heard to be believed, and by this point the odd old fashioned riff would go down a treat.
I love how daft Muse are, but my growing fear is that they don’t see themselves as daft, but as a Dylan-esque protest group with An Important Message. I couldn’t stop myself giggling when I listened to the band discuss how ‘dark’ their first two singles were on Radio 1 about a month ago.
I may be being a little harsh. No one really expects political or musical subtlety from Muse, and it’s the combination of the anthem and the insane that has made them so successful.
I personally much prefer the previous album, The Second Law, to Drones, but I can see why another record of meandering generic interests and wacky musical experimentation may not have been the best idea. Here Muse have learned once again how to make a fabulous racket, without losing any of their more proggy pretensions. All in all, that’s not a bad result.