When you’re Muse, the idea of dialling it down holds little currency, regardless what you threaten in interviews. How do you be “a little less Brobdingnagian”? You can’t dim laser beams a notch or dampen the Big Bang. This is the lasting message from Drones, which finds the English group equating restraint to merely dropping The 2nd Law’s soiree into nerve-shredding dubstep. In many ways, this is the logical next move for a group who never seemed too hampered by logic – a ‘best of’, of sorts. If In Rainbows is the album you’d hand a Martian who had just asked you who Radiohead are, Drones could qualify in this respect for the three piece. It encapsulates everything the band have held our attention with over the previous six records, yet still leaves a scattering of mysteries in its wake, the largest of which may just be that Muse have somehow avoided becoming a punchline in the annals of rock’s most preposterous excesses.
So what does Muse “sans frills” look like? Matt Bellamy’s Morricone obsession gets an airing on the sprawling 10-minute western-sci-fi-opera of ‘The Globalist’, which goes on to sail through metallic rifforama and a few bars of Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’. Sure why not. The title track, meanwhile, is some kind of four-part Britton-esque choral hymn. And why? Because it’s Muse.
Elsewhere, the theatrics are slightly more rooted in rock ‘n’ roll reality. Slightly. Producer Mutt Lange pares ‘Reapers’ into an arena-metal anthem to rival anything of his former antipodean charges, all light-speed Bellamy fretting and Chris Wolstenholme’s fuzzed elasticity. ‘Psycho’ carries on the glam rallying of ‘Uprising’ to near Ziggy Ramirez territory, but chucks in a rousing chorus of “your ass belongs to me” for good measure.
Muse might seem to wear a straight face through the samples of JFK speeches and shouty drill-sergeants, through the hifalutin concepts and overheated compositions, but I’m not so sure. Bellamy can croon and snarl all he likes about global conspiracies and the break-up of his relationship with actress Kate Hudson (listen out for the bitter lyrics of ‘Dead Inside’) but there’s ever a whiff of the arch about Muse that refuses to die all these years later. “You can’t control me,” Bellamy yelps triumphantly on the Queen-like pomp of ‘Defector’. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
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