Muse is not one for subtlety in lyrical construction — 2009’s The Resistance was built around themes from Orwell’s “1984,” and the band’s tour in support of its 2015 release Drones literally featured remote-controlled drones flying around the stadiums. The directness with which the band approaches these subjects can be either refreshing or annoying, depending on the degree — often, the band tiptoes the line between the two.
Even for Muse, though, the new single “Dig Down,” which dropped May 18, is more on the nose than usual — the first verse features the lyrics “When God decides to look the other way / and a clown takes the throne / we must find a way.”
If that didn’t seem hackneyed at all, the opening line “When hope and love has been lost / and you fall to the ground / you must find a way” might not cross the line either, but for a band known for innovation in both musical presentation and live performance, “Dig Down” comes across a bit well-worn. The vocals of the track wouldn’t be too out of place in a Beatles release, sans the Trump reference.
In fact, lyrics aside, we’ve already heard “Dig Down” — sonically and structurally, it is identical to the band’s 2012 single “Madness.” It opens with the same fuzzy wub-dub bass line, with a nearly imperceptibly modified rhythm, and Matt Bellamy’s voice enters with the same breathy aplomb.
Over the course of the single’s nearly four-minute run time, it tracks almost perfectly with its predecessor, building from bass-line-dominated, spare instrumentation to richer, more full orchestration and culminating in a choral-esque climax and screeching guitar solo to finish it off. That structure works — Muse has given us an enjoyable track, just not a new one.
Many Muse supporters weren’t very jazzed with “Madness” when it premiered, and “Dig Down” is likely to have a similar effect. Neither are outright bad songs, but the novelty of the former had a placating effect on longtime fans who worried the band was abandoning its heavier rock roots, a luxury “Dig Down” doesn’t have.
Ultimately, the degree to which “Dig Down” refuses to innovate, refuses to branch out from the comfort of the band’s past work, is more troubling than the specific sonics of the song. Years-old tracks like “Knights of Cydonia” explored similar ideas of God turning his back on mankind, but with considerably greater willingness to take risks and explore the theme both lyrically and musically.
Bellamy said of the new track, “When I was writing this song, I was looking to counteract the current negativity in the world and give inspiration, optimism and hope to people to fight for the causes they believe in.”
It’s a noble sentiment but hardly a novel one. Muse would do better to counteract the current negativity in the world by writing something vibrant and fresh rather than rehashing a simplistic, well-trodden ideal with almost self-plagiarizing instrumentation.