Once upon a time, there was a group called Muse, who played a lot of rock music. And it was excellent. From Showbiz to Absolution, they embraced absurdity, yet were heavy on guitar melodies that would stick in your head for days, and overwhelming theatrics. Whilst their output was bombastic, it was undeniably thrilling stuff. And then it got a little bit silly. Experimentation has since driven them to electropop, cheap R’n’B, funk and dubstep.
So when they announced a headlining slot at this summer’s Download festival, as well as revealing that Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange was producing what will be seventh studio album Drones, it was enough to at least interest those who started to feel that Muse were out of touch with rock altogether. If the last date of their short UK tour at the stupendously intimate Brighton Dome is anything to go by, it’s a notable, if not entirely as straightforward as first suggested, return to the sound that earned them mainstream success a decade ago.
The last two records were the work of a group who seemingly didn’t want to be tagged as a rock band. Tonight, only Uprising gets played from either The Resistance or The 2nd Law. It takes seconds for them to unleash a riff that encourages everyone to lose any sense of rationale. Suddenly, everyone remembers why they liked Muse in the first place. Is it ridiculous? Of course it is. The drill sergeant spoken word samples sound like an overblown McG blockbuster. It doesn’t really matter though, because it’s one of the liveliest and heaviest songs they’ve ever done.
In the end, just three new songs are revealed and, for the most part, they are so huge of sound that melodramatic grandstanding really isn’t needed. As well as the aforementioned Psycho, they close the main set with Reapers, an AC/DC-style beast that thumps away with a dizzying amount of soloing and guitar wizardry from Matt Bellamy. The only bum note is when lead single Dead Inside gets its debut, which sounds a little tame by comparison. Still, there’s enough promise to give people hope that Drones might be a long-awaited return to form.
Oh, and there’s older songs too. Given the change in direction, it isn’t surprising to see groove-orientated tracks like Panic Station, Undisclosed Desires and Madness miss the cut entirely. What sends the devoted crowd into raptures is the band’s decision to crack out some of the deep cuts and their more riff-tastic hits. Plug In Baby, Knights Of Cydonia and Hysteria remain knockout tunes, whilst the surprise additions of their first ever single, Uno, and lost Absolution b-side The Groove are most welcome.
It seems as if the Teignmouth trio have stepped away from the genre free-for-all approach that has defined the last five or so years of their career. The real proof will come in June when Drones gets released to the wider world. On the basis of this performance though, it’s hard not to feel excitement for what’s to come – that giddiness itself is a feeling that hasn’t been associated with Muse for a long time.