Why Muse Should Call it Quits

On Monday of this week Muse released their seventh album. Entitled Drones and billed as a concept exploring the moral implications of remote control killing machines operated by equally machine-like humans, who in turn are agents of a further tertiary tyrannical state apparatus. This concept is illustrated rather more elegantly than that last sentence by the album’s cover artwork. However, this is where all subtlety ends.


This is record is blunt, clumsy and is turgid to an almost infantile degree in its use of language. There is none of the poetry which shines and glimmers in the corners of previous albums. The sampling gimmick which first reared its ugly head on Muse’s previous offering, The 2nd Law, is back and worse than before. Other than a ray of typically virtuosic oration from JFK, sampling is used unforgivingly. It serves to detract from the already awful second track Psycho, which is based on a recycled riff, a blues chord progression and a chorus with arse-possession as its central concern.

The next trend which ought to have died with the retirement of The 2nd Law (note that the trio no longer play tracks from this album in their live show) is the stuttering which is used to flesh out words which lack the syllables to fit with repetitious grooves and riffs. M-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-madness anyone? S-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-supremacy? etc.  I shall point to the particularly infuriating offender in the chorus of Defector – “inc-c-c-citing.” Come on.

There are actually a couple of songs which may be deemed as listenable on the album and these come in the form of Reapers and The Handler. However, these are impact songs designed to make a first impression. It is on the second or third play you realise why Muse should probably give it a rest. These two numbers despite initial appearances are like much of the album, a parody of something – more specifically a parody of Muse themselves. I’ll happily back up my claim; Mercy is a decade-on Starlight, Dead Inside is a mix of Undisclosed Desires and has a song structure which almost exactly mirrors Madness. The Handler has a great verse and chorus but the bridge/middle section is lifted straight from Stockholm Syndrome and Showbiz. Reapers is a cheesy parody encompassing RATM’s Bombtrack riff and 80s American lad rock.

From then onwards is a mess. Aftermath is a Rod Stewart rip off (“we are sailing” vs. “from this moment”) with a 90s boyband-esque final chorus. The Globalist attempts a re-run of the Exogenesis Symphony. However, it comes nowhere near 2009’s feat in terms of originality. Whilst I can appreciate a whopper of a 7-string drop A guitar riff/breakdown in the middle of the beast, I do not want to have to listen to some space cowboy whistling guff and Elgar’s Nimrod set to painfully bad lyrics either side for it. In the past Muse have incorporated classical music gracefully into their own, this was done successfully on The Resistance in United States of Eurasia and I Belong to You. Crucially the music was allowed to speak for itself and did not suffer being imposed upon by totally irrelevant ideas which contradicted the beautiful source material.

It is true that Drones is more cohesive than the disjointed The 2nd Law and has a consistent theme throughout. Unfortunately it feels like this theme is beaten into you with a blunt object for fifty minutes or so. I’ve nothing against musicals, in fact I enjoy them tremendously, but it really feels as though the album would have worked better in that format rather than trying to pass it off as something that is not quite full blown musical or rock record. When Bellamy finally sings “Amen” in the hymnal title track you are certainly glad that it is over.

I used to say that Muse were my favourite band. Their posters adorn my wall, their album art my guitar plectrums. Of late I’ve come to be somewhat embarrassed about this, like it’s an admission or confession; one usually met with scorn and derision from my peers. I, unlike many, embrace the ostentatious flamboyance of their live act – I welcome their ambition and occasional pretentiousness. However, my forgiveness and love of these things comes from the fact they produce brilliant music.

Music has to come first. High concepts are well enough, so long as they serve in subordination to great music and poetry. This is in common with my view of art and “the arts” in general; that substance must more often than not take second place to style in order to move people.

I have come to realise that music in the style of Muse, by Muse is simply not good enough – it seems fake and fraudulent. There must be more growth than that. I want to be challenged. Reheated baked beans are never as good as the first time out of the microwave, and so it goes with Muse. Perhaps they are the victims of an overly nostalgic fanbase who hanker for the glory days of Origin of Symmetry and Absolution but that seems unlikely given that they take three years between albums and what they produce is essentially a copy of the band a decade earlier.

Music is what matters. I can read books if I want fully fleshed out dystopias and confrontational concepts. This is not pessimism about the state of modern music, there is a lot of great stuff out there and currently my desires being sated by a mix of Hot Chip, Alabama Shakes, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and FFS (Franz Ferdinand & Sparks!) However, to quote the band themselves on perhaps the one genuinely decent song on the new album, “I must dis-so-ci-ate from you!”

About alasdairflett

German & English Literature graduate. From Orkney. Interested in alternative and indie music, language, writing and politics.
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