'Muse: Drones World Tour' Review: Confused Messaging Distorts Moody Alt-Rock

'Muse: Drones World Tour' Review: Confused Messaging Distorts Moody Alt-Rock
Muse's concert film Drones World Tour wastes no time in beating audiences over the head with its political message: within the first moments of the show, screens display the words "killed by drones" while masked troops ominously stand around the stage, looking menacing.
What exactly is Muse's message though? That's not quite clear. Drones World Tour is vaguely Orwellian, and definitely has something to do with war, although what you take from it will depend almost entirely on your own pre-existing biases. It's a strange paradox, where Muse manage to be cryptic while simultaneously lacking any subtlety whatsoever.
The vapid politics might be easier to forgive if Drones World Tour were better to look at, but the film is an assault on the senses that is characterized by rapid-fire cuts and shaky camera effects. The editing aesthetic is "BMX stunt highlight reel." Most disappointingly, the drones that Muse included in the visual show don't add much — mostly, they amount to a few floating orbs that could have just as easily been lowered from the ceiling on wires, rather than flown in. Perhaps they were more impressive in person, but they're nothing much to look at here. Couldn't have they at least attached a camera to a drone for some cool overhead shots?
All that being said, the stage is pretty cool to look at. With platforms and walkways that stretch the length of the arena floor, and a rotating stage in the middle, Muse effectively use the arena space like U2 before them. The long shots from the back of the arena are quite stunning, although none of these shots last for long enough to really soak it in.
Musically speaking, Muse deliver 90 minutes of their usual moody, thundering alt-rock, resembling a cross between Radiohead and Jock Jams. The real revelation here is that frontman Matt Bellamy can absolutely shred on guitar. While many of the songs are structured around low-end blooze-rock riffs, Bellamy throws in some masterful two-hand tapping and searing leads — he's clearly got prodigious talent, but doesn't feel the need to endlessly show it off. His bandmates, bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard, are similarly proficient, and they've got a multi-instrumentalist in tow to help with the music's ornate electronic elements.
Bellamy also excels at operatic, note-perfect wails and occasionally displays some truly fantastic piano playing. If Muse toned down their riff-rock machismo and ponderous politics, they could be a wildly entertaining cabaret pop band, and it's tempting to imagine it might look like if they staged a fun, flamboyant theatre show. Instead, we get Drones World Tour — an alt-rock political manifesto without a thesis statement.