Wednesday 17 June 2015

Review of 'Drones' by Muse

Muse have never been masters at subtlety. Their combination of classical-inspired rock and Matt Bellamy’s operatic warbling at times couldn’t be more melodramatic if it tried. When singing about black holes and alien invasions a lot of this melodrama came across as charming. Like an explosion-packed action flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously, Muses theatrical sound represented nothing but indulgent fun. But then Muse started taking themselves seriously, discovering politics...

The Resistance and The 2nd Law introduced themes of government control and global warming. Around the same time, the group became less guitar focused - The Resistance dedicating a large section of it’s running time to classical noodling, whilst The 2nd Law dabbled in dubstep, confusing just about everyone.

Fortunately, Drones sees the band reasserting themselves as a rock band, bringing the guitars back to the forefront. Whilst there are still some odd sonic deviancies along the way, the majority of the album is dedicated to face-melting, whiplash-inducing, meaty riffage. ‘Reapers’ is an all-out bluesy jam complete with Van-Halen-esque tapping, whilst ‘The Handler’ is heavy enough to rival most metal bands. Fans of Muse’s softer side will be disappointed – ‘Mercy’ is the only tame radio-friendly single here. Personally, I’m glad Muse haven’t become another U2 or Coldplay imitation.  I haven’t heard a mainstream band deliver a rock album this loud in a long time.

Me air-guitaring like a dork whilst listening to 'Reapers'

Sadly, Muse’s choice to yet again get serious and political lyrically distracts from a lot of the instrumental fun. Essentially an anti-military rock opera, Drones centres around the tale of a drone pilot who realises he’s being brainwashed, goes rogue, sets up his own nuclear state and haphazardly destroys the world (oops, spoilers!).

Some of it is zany enough to forgive. The ten minute genre-cycling epic, ‘The Globalist’, paired with lyrics about a nuclear apocalypse on one hand has a cartoonish dystopian vibe to it. However, there are moments such as the ‘there are no countries’ line that feel like they’re actually trying to be profound.

The problem is that in order to be profound you need to be emotionally convincing, of which Muse are incapable of. Their theatrical style and Matt’s overacted vocal delivery make everything comical and goofy. Consequently, ‘Revolt’ sounds like a parody of a rebellion song, whilst ‘Aftermath’ tries to be a sad ballad but ends up like a corny Disney theme.

How I picture Matt Bellamy singing during 'Aftermath'

Other times, this attempt to be profound is simply ruined due to the bluntness of the lyrics. Whilst I largely agree with the anti-brainwashing sentiments of ‘Psycho’, the way in which it is candidly delivered makes it feel plain insensitive.

The way I see it, Muse are better off sticking to black holes and alien invasions for subject matter. Drones is probably one of the band’s most cohesive and impressive works instrumentally, but lyrically it’s full of potholes and this prevents it from being the fun rollercoaster ride it wants to be.