Music Reviews

Muse Drones

(Warner Bros.) Rating - 2/10

There’s a trait within fiction writing known as Flanderisation, whereby a particular facet of a character is gradually exaggerated over time, until they become a grotesque parody of their former selves. It’s named, of course, after The Simpsons’ Ned Flanders who, over the years, has gone from a relatively normal neighbour, for whom religion was a part of their life, to an evangelical zealot, bordering on fundamentalism.

When Muse released their debut album, Showbiz, in 1999, they were an above-average trio of Radiohead devotees with slightly proggy leanings. Something that made them a little more interesting than, say, King Adora or My Vitriol, was their unabashed love for Rachmaninov, and their exploration of apocalyptic themes in their lyrics. Sixteen years later and on album number seven, Muse are now a novelty band – never knowingly passing up a chance for a warp-speed arpeggio or some doom-laden sixth form prose.

Drones is a concept album based on a dystopian future. Of course it is. You get the impression that Muse think that this is all very important and clever stuff indeed, despite the fact it offers about as much insight into our world as a marketing pamphlet. They’re aiming for George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, but in terms of social commentary, it’s not even Taylor Swift’s 1989.

The record begins with Dead Inside, a track that itself begins with a shrill cry of, “Dead inside!”, like some kind of judgement day-themed Queen tribute band. Despite containing lyrics such as, “Unleash a million drones,” Dead Inside turns out to just be about a woman who doesn’t offer much in the way of communication. Here, Muse are an excitable fourteen year old boy who’s just discovered metaphor and conspiracy theories. It’s no surprise to learn the album is co-produced by Mutt Lange.

Said fourteen year old boy would probably adore Psycho, a song built upon a military marching beat and a jaunty riff that’s pumped so full of testosterone that it’s faintly ridiculous. In fact, ridiculousness is a common theme in Drones – there are more Queen-esque harmonies in Mercy, there’s an anguished howl of, “Here come the drones!” in Reapers, then we have the fact that penultimate track, The Globalist, is a ten minute epic in three movements. Despite this continuing ludicrousness, not to mention one of the key tenets of rock n’ roll is having a good time, Muse remain staggeringly pious and sincere throughout. Most bands would approach such overblown nonsense with a raised eyebrow or a tongue planted in their cheek, yet Muse’s own delusions of grandeur allow them to convince themselves they’re doing groundbreaking work.

When you break the music down, you find that Muse are simply recycling a lot of their old ideas. The piano octaves that begin Mercy immediately put you in mind of Starlight and while the enormous pre-chorus riff of Reapers is tremendous fun, the song bears more than a passing resemblance to Absolution album track Thoughts of a Dying Atheist. It might seem an unlikely criticism for a record with such lofty ambitions and wide-reaching themes, but Drones is actually criminally short on ideas. Songs such as The Handler or Defector are so intent on telling their story that the music becomes clumpy and leaden, and the message seems to be that if all else fails, shove in an oscillating guitar riff that sounds like a building collapsing.

On the one hand, bands should be given credit for creating albums that can, in an age of dumbed-down pop culture, simultaneously take their cues from classical music, write songs heralding the end of the world, and sell millions of copies. On the other hand, regardless of concept, these things still have to be done well and, by any stretch of the imagination, Drones comes up well short on that front.

Aside from a few crunching riffs and a smattering of neat melodies, there’s very little to recommend within Drones. It’s a record for people who unquestioningly adore Julian Assange or have ever tried to convince someone that 9/11 was an inside job. Muse don’t attack their targets with guile or intelligence, but with blunt force – their broadsides are as subtle and nuanced as a political cartoon where bankers are literally drawn as fat cats. It’s an album for a world where we apparently accept that “David Cameron is posh!” counts as satire.

Drones ends with the title track, an operatic number sung a cappella about how the protagonist’s entire family have been murdered by robots. It sums up the album pretty well – it’s pompous, preposterous, po-faced and pointless. Muse are now fully Flanderised, and there doesn’t seem anywhere for them to go except to continue in their current direction. Seeing as they’re a hugely popular stadium rock band, you expect they know exactly what they’re doing. Muse have given us Drones because Drones is the album people want and the album that we deserve. Perhaps an extra-terrestrial invasion wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.