NEVER knowingly understated, Muse return in typically histrionic and operatic form.
Queen, Radiohead and Green Day all jump to mind throughout the passionately-delivered and turned-up-to-11 concept album Drones.
Frontman Matt Bellamy makes his guitar sing, the versatile instrument being pushed to extremes as the player wrings a stunning range of chords and acrobatics from his instrument, while crashing beats from drummer Dominic Howard and thrumming basslines from Rotherham’s own Chris Wolstenholme ramp up the feeling of a max-power effort.
Drones — a ten-song album punctuated by a couple of politically-tinged talky bits — also features a revival of the guitar solo, an indulgence which used to be standard on any rock song but appeared to have faded from fashion.
But sadly the emotional is middleweight rather than heavyweight, with too many tracks blending into one, few truly standing out and a plethora of impassioned lyrics becoming lost in the musical maelstrom, although matters do improve with repeated listens.
The most interesting segment is the final three songs — the beautiful love song Aftermath, the ten-minute mini-rock opera The Globalist (its final strains echoing Elgar’s Nimrod) and the haunting choral hymn drones.
If you want to get a handle on the contrasting styles of this album, allow the graceful final track to segue into the crash and bash of the opener, Dead Inside.
The influence of the dystopian sci-fi of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell is apparent as Muse relate a story centring on the conflict between free will and state control, themes developing from the frustration of inertia and the brainwashing of soldiers to the climax and aftermath of an apocalyptic battle.
Track names like Dead Inside, Revolt — an exhortation to throw off the shackles — and, indeed, the title track, all give a clear indication of the album’s tone.
But the content of the lyrics is often obscured by the regular shrill shriek which have become Bellamy’s trademark.
It can hard to get your message across when much of what’s being said is unclear.
Having said that, the words play second fiddle to the soaring chords, crunching riffs and spiralling solos which grace most tracks.
And Bellamy’s ability to make his guitar sound like a weapon one minute and a violin the next should not be underestimated.
Drones is musically slick, passionately delivered and certainly ambitious — when are Muse not ambitious? — but at the same time didn’t do quiet enough to get right under my skin, although I felt myself warming to it on the second and third go.
It’s already a Number One hit, so what do I know, but while it’s easy to respect and admire, Drones is somehow difficult to love.