Review Summary: Rockist Pomposity.
Muse's critics like to use unjustifiably lengthy blurbs to make it clear they once really did quite like the band, y'know, before they started idolizing Skrillex and writing songs like "Panic Station". The illusion they want to concoct (for themselves, no less) is that Muse really were clever at some stage, and that their newer incarnation definitely does not represent the band as a whole.
That's a difficult task considering The 2nd Law
made no qualms in being as massive and retarded as time permit. Perhaps then the biggest trouble with Muse's career has been their marketing difficulties. Rolling Stone and NME abscond from ever referencing Matt Bellamy's clear lineage with Radiohead and other frosty British influences; Classic Rock and Metal Hammer are nervous when handling because they don't sound enough like Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin for them to give the stamp of approval. What we end up with is a group of people who formulate a rather poor narrative around this; everything up until Black Holes & Revelations
is sacrosanct, The Resistance
onwards has as much content as taint can manage. Undoubtedly, many ran scurrying earlier this year when Matt Bellamy's foot straddled the monitor and he howled, 'your ass belongs to me now!' ("Psycho"). It looked as if it would come down to the wire on release date in terms of a reaction for what Muse could muster next. Would we completely deny Drones
as thriving on the grounds of Muse absurdism? Or, would it succeed as an (admittedly undue) apology for everything that wasn't Absolution
It is clear that Drones
sounds like an attempt to justify The 2nd Law
as nothing more than an off-the-cuff experiment gone horribly wrong. With that album, Muse seemed intent on alienation where Drones
clearly comes across as pander. That's not to say that the key elements of Muse no longer thrive, because Drones
sounds as pompous as ever, just now in a straightforward, rockist manner. Producer Mutt Lange is better known for giving Shania Twain, AC/DC, and Def Leppard the studio sheen for their ascent to stardom- here, he strips away a fair amount of business and complexity and reapplies layers of vocals and guitars to create music that is inherently easy to wrap your head around. No, the faux-political meditation of the album cover doesn't present itself as a red herring; this is as easy listening as the diluted alternative rock genre gets in 2015.
Not that Muse are attempting to sweep their collective influence under the rug, as Drones
is happy to play up to any number of hard rock clichés Muse feel like employing at the time. Nothing else can justify the stupendous length of "The Globalist" or excessively faux-metal strut of "Reapers", because Muse don't specialize in subtle or nuanced as much as they do big dumb shi
t. Perhaps "The Handler" is the clearest distillation of Drones
' mission, espousing with all of The 2nd Law
's experimental posturing for Matt Bellamy's trademark falsetto and riffing. Many will rush to it as solace for the likes of "Undisclosed Desires", but it feels like a red herring because it's still very much in the vein of '10s Muse. This is especially true when they ask, 'not, what your country can do for you' on the embarrassingly joyous crunch of "JFK" with little concern for one of the worlds' greatest leaders. Muse haven't moved away from the supposed fatal flaw of their last few albums, they've merely absorbed it into their ether, stripping away the wallpaper to reveal an intrinsically self-satirical framework.
is a difficult sell to make because it makes the truth of the matter undeniably clear: Muse aren't and cannot be the band you want them to be
. It makes itself transparent by admitting to bad habits- juvenile political statements, anthemic choruses to right wrongs- but it never reaches the unenviable heights of self-satire that made The 2nd Law
such an entertaining fiasco to behold. Where they would once entrench themselves in faux-James Bond theme songs, dubstep detours, and Olympian parody, they now seem content to let their guitars do the talking. It's not that there's expectations for Absolution
(nor should there be), it's that they've gone from pushing people's buttons to being functional cock rock for Generation Z. Drones
provides us with the same Muse, just a different lick of paint, one where experimental tendencies are forsaken for generic employment of alt-rock tropes.
It's telling that critics are still unsure of how to treat Drones
in the Muse canon. Should we applaud them for not repeating the Caligulan mindset that supposedly ruined The 2nd Law
? Or, should we finally admit that Muse have always been nothing more than stadium rock pastiche wrapped in faux-intellectualism? It's going to be difficult if we admit the latter, because the implications- admitting that Muse were never really that clever- will make us writer types look like we spent the last 15 years trying desperately to justify why we would like something that appears so incredibly silly. Drones
gladly plays up to its role as dunderheaded stadium rock for the lowest common denominator, and, truth be told, it's pretty fu
cking satisfying. This is rockist pomposity at its most serviceable.