Music reviews: Muse, Leftfield, Of Monsters and Men
As a supermassive fan of their earlier riff-driven recordings, I thought Blackholes & Revelations was the last Muse album worth banging a head to before the English prog rock trio went on to rival U2 as one of the biggest rock-lite bands in the world.
After the synth-heavy arena glam of their previous two mega charttopping albums, for their seventh studio album, Drones, Matt Bellamy &Co promised a more back-tobasics approach. For this “return to their roots”, Muse turned to producer Mutt Lange (Def Leppard, AC/DC) and the formidable riffthrobbing Reapers with its guitar noodlings and operatic warblings certainly would have sat nicely on Muse’s classic rock album Origin of Symmetry.
The thumping riff of lead single Psycho is taken from their live-show encores, but Bellamy’s obsession with government conspiracies and a dystopian future still offers up some trite lyrics. Revolt is this album’s Knights of Cydonia, with Muse channelling their inner Queen again, but Mercy is unexciting. They may consider Drones a simpler creation, but in Muse’s hands, it’s still a formidable and grandiose beast.
Muse Drones (Warner Bros)
Leftfield's 1995 debut album, Leftism, along with Underworld's Dubnobasswithmyheadman and the Chemical Brothers' Dig Your Own Hole, will rightly go down as seminal classics of dance music's big-beat progressive house era. Pioneering duo Neil Barnes and Paul Daley followed it up four years later with an album of similar style, and while 1999's platinum-selling Rhythm & Stealth wasn't quite as stonking, it was still shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize and featured the bass-throbbing single Phat Planet.
Sixteen years later, Leftfield re-emerge, and with third album, Alternative Light Source, now as a solo project after Daley declined to return, into a very different dance music scene. Those expecting an updated modern sound from Leftfield will be sorely disappointed, as these are very much the same head-pounding sounds. There are guest vocalists aplenty - Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio fame kicks off with the bouncing Bad Radio before mammoth lead single Universal Everything and the stomping beat of Little Fish featuring Channy Leaneagh make 16 years seem like just last week.
Leftfield Alternative Light Source (Infectious Music)
In the summer of 2012, you couldn't catch a breath without suffering the rapturous horns and joyous chants of "Hey!" as the insanely rousing anthem Little Talks polluted the ears and propelled Of Monsters and Men to worldwide stardom. Such a meteoric rise, though, will always come with the risk of a sudden backlash. That's why Beneath the Skin - the follow-up to their internationally acclaimed debut My Head is an Animal - will undoubtedly flounder commercially for being too different, as it consists of Icelandic folk collectives.
The opening song, Crystals, doesn't break new ground, and the band's stripped-back harmonies and prominent drumbeats find them in familiar, yet less sprightly, territory. While the tempo is still uplifting, the mood overall is a shade darker and more contemplative, far less whimsical than its chart-topping predecessor. Singer Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir hogs the microphone this time round as on the beautiful acoustic ballad Organs, with co-vocalist Ragnar Porhallsson relegated to filling in the background and not taking the lead until the fifth track, Empire.
Of Monsters and Men Beneath the Skin (Republic Records)