Muse – Drones – Album Review

Drones  Is Out Via Warner Music On 8th June

You know what I like? I like nuance. I like dichotomies. I like the gray areas that exist all around me. I like things that are at once ugly and beautiful. Life is ugly and beautiful, and I want that to be reflected in the art I consume. That’s why, in my time, I’ve loved post metal, I’ve loved fuzz pop, Courtney Barnett, Six Feet Under, and Dime bars. What I don’t like is getting beaten around the head and face with a big dirty stick of smug, heavy handed spectacle. Which is precisely what listening to the latest offering from Muse, the ironically titled Drones, feels like. Seriously, it’s what the sound track for Michael Bay’s version of George Orwell’s 1984 would sound like. It’s like they heard Fucked Up’s 2011 dystopian rock opera/post-hardcore classic David Comes To Life, and thought, “Let’s make a shit version of that.”

When exactly did Muse jump the shark? It could have been their fifth album The Resistance, with its three part symphony, or it could have been their sixth album The 2nd Law, which harboured the frankly hilarious official song of the 2012 Olympic Games, “Survival” (sample lyrics, “Race, life’s a race / And I am gonna win / Yes, I am gonna win”).  Certainly, it happened a long, long time ago (conceivably in a galaxy far, far away), and at this stage any enjoyment that previously could be gleaned from the trio’s campy, overblown nature is as dead as Matt Bellamy’s conception of restraint.

Opener ‘Dead Inside’ is a perfect example of what mars Muse’s latest effort. The music is some kind of bizarre sub-Michael Jackson stomp, replete with chiming synths and ‘funky’ drums. Bellamy’s signature outlandish tenor winds in and out of proceedings without forming a memorable melody, while, lyrically, he displays the width and depth of his lyrical prowess with such enlightening passages as, “Feel me now / Hold me please / I need you to see who I am / Open up to me / Stop hiding from me / It’s hurting babe / Only you can stop the pain.” Christ. It makes Chester Bennington sound like Seamus Heaney.

Things don’t get much better elsewhere. The trio have obviously been immersing themselves the pedestrian blues rock of Royal Blood’s self titled debut as the riff from ‘Psycho’ plays into the same cliched blues rock tropes that the Worthing duo have been dredging up as of late. And this, just this: “I’m gonna make you / I’m gonna break you / I’m gonna make you / A fucking psycho / Your ass belongs to me now.” I don’t think I need to even write anything about that gem. ‘Mercy’ is pretty much a Coldplay cover, while ‘Defector’ is the sound of Queen if they removed their collective tongue from their collective cheek.

By far the most intriguing point in the album comes the form of the title track and album closer. A minimalistic, layered ballad reminiscent of the hymns I grew up with as I attended Catholic mass every Sunday, it is the only time on the album that the trio emphasises substance over style. It is a genuine curve-ball, and an all too brief respite from the surrounding dross.

The problem is that, as a stadium band, Muse must forever aim for the cheap seats. They must be the lowest common denominator at all times. They need to be the Two and a Half Men of prog, the TOWIE of dystopian critique. Of course, this makes in depth social critique difficult and leads to high concept albums influenced by the likes of theoretical physicist Michio Kaku (2001’s Origin of Symmetry), and deep ecology, the empathy gap, and World War III (Drones) married to the most vapidly inane lyrics this side of Chris Martin, and music, that while technically proficient, is somehow bland and redundant while claiming aspirations of complexity.

The absolutely worst thing though is that Drones is extremely boring. For all the histrionics, high concept themes, enormous drums and guitars, and melodramatic vocals, ultimately the only ‘drones’ here are Muse themselves. I’ll stick to Fucked Up thanks.


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