Muse ‘Drones’ – Review

25 Jul

‘Drones’ is a classic example of how artists can make a bad album out of the same ingredients they used to make classic ones (see also: Oasis, U2, Kings of Leon, Jay Z etc). On the surface Muse, possibly the most successful rock band of the past decade, do what they’ve always done – theatrical histrionics, crunching riffs, political paranoia, pop melodies and propulsive dynamics. Sadly though on ‘Drones’ they get the balance all wrong. The album is such a car wreck it’s difficult to know where to begin assessing the damage. From the obnoxious concept, right down to the fine details, ‘Drones’ is a failure of judgment and an absence of effort on every single level.

According to Wikipedia, ‘Drones’ is “a concept album following the protagonist’s journey from abandonment to indoctrination as a “human drone” and eventual defection.” If that single sentence sounds ponderous then just imagine how the album sounds. Muse have always delivered high stakes, pseudo political diatribes but here they dial up the anxiety and conspiracy. Here, for the first time, they sound COMPLETELY devoid of humour – slaves to their unconvincing, patronising and tiresome politics. The really damming thing is that if you break down the story and inspect the mechanics you are left with a bunch of empty phrases, tired slogans and hoary cliches – ‘you’re dead inside’, ‘I’m the virus’, ‘show me mercy’, ‘you rule with lies and deceit’ etc etc.

‘Drones’ fails just as spectacularly on the musical side of things. Aside from opening track ‘Dead Inside’ (which is a bland retread of ‘Panic Station’ anyway), the songs are airless, stodgy and too riff centric. It’s as if they’re trying to worm in to some of Royal Blood’s popularity, only they lack the energy and momentum to pull it off. Sadly they sound like a shadow of their former selves; listening to old songs like ‘Hysteria’, ‘Bliss’ and ‘Time is Running Out’ makes you remember that it wasn’t always like this.

I think the main ingredient lacking is any sense of deliberate, tongue in cheek pomposity. The best muse songs are the ones that embrace their obvious silliness; the ridiculously overblown ‘Knights of Cydonia’ or ‘supremacy’ – the songs on ‘Drones’ take themselves way too seriously and that is a massive mistake. It makes the album unlikable and in the end, unlistenable.

Matt Bellemy has always been a distinctive and impressive frontman – a technically gifted vocalist with personality and great command of the audience. He’s also been a natural songwriter, with a fine nose for hooks and an ear for melodies. Those traits are just about the only things salvageable from ‘Drones’ but that comes with the depressing knowledge that he’s resting on his laurels. ‘Drones’ has boggy riffs, zero sense of humour, a lack of energy, a paranoid concept but it’s ultimately a victim of sheer laziness. There is the sense that Muse could be great, if only they could be bothered.

2/10

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