July 23, 2015 Muse – Drones (Album Review)
In 1994, when three young men by the names of Matthew Bellamy (guitar, piano, vocals) , Christopher Wolstenholme (bass and background vocals) , and Dominic Howard (drums) came together to form a band called Muse in their small town of Teignmouth, Devon, in the U.K., they probably did not think they would amount to what they have today. Their first full-length studio album, Showbiz, was released in 1999, with the usual topics of relationships and social anxiety, and while a lot of labels were reluctant to sign them due to their unusual mix of Alternative, Progressive, and Hard Rock, one record label, Maverick Records, took their chances.
Unfortunately, when they asked Bellamy to change his sound to fit the U.S. ‘radio friendly’ attitude, he and the band refused, causing their departure from the label and their second album, Origin Of Symmetry, to not be released in the U.S. until 2005 when they signed with Warner Brothers. Their third album, Absolution, released in 2003, yielded their first ever top ten hit “Time is Running Out,” thus opening the band up to more mainstream exposure. With performing at the Glastonbury Festival in 2004 and releasing a tour DVD in 2005, Absolution became their first gold album in the U.S., and the band broke the market on their own terms.
The albums to follow; Black Holes and Revelations (2006), The Resistance (2009), and The 2nd Law (2012), continued the success of Absolution, and made Muse one of the biggest bands on the scene. Winning awards, attaining platinum albums, and more touring, their fanbase grew to all new levels with their unusual themes, boarding on the political side, referencing apocalyptic scenarios, a future world war, and in their latest album Drones; a world filled with brainwashed masses and killer robots. When a band has as much history as Muse, seven albums, countless tours, and a list of award wins that could make Green Day’s head spin, including a Grammy for Best Rock Album for The Resistance, it was no surprise their newest album released on June 5th, Drones, was destined to be a hit.
Thematically, Drones is a modern retelling of classic Sci-Fi stories. With Muse’s usual use of electronic musical elements in their Rock style, it was a match made in Rock heaven. The album starts off with “Dead Inside,” which has a storyline similar to Stephenie Meyer’s 2008 novel The Host, which is not necessarily a good book, but a Sci-Fi book nonetheless. The concept being a new ‘creature’ inhabits a body, taking over the mind and its subconscious, is an interesting way to kick off the album. It discusses being tricked, falling into the trap, knowing it has happened, but knowing there is nothing one can do to fight it, and so the ‘drone’ conforms.
The spoken word “[Drill Sergeant]” and “[JFK]” are only less than minute snippets to add to the storyline of being controlled (“[Drill Sergeant]”), and then a person realizing they have been brainwashed (“[JFK]”). Following these bits is the song “Psycho,” which goes into a bit of a heavier Alternative Rock that has a very dark theme, with the screaming drill sergeants that even put the fear into listeners. Musically, the song sounds like a cross between Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, with Muse’s own personal touch.
“Mercy” has a plot similar to being out of George Orwell’s insightful novel 1984, which the band has said influenced several songs on albums prior. The gist is that the main character tries to change the game, and infiltrate the system. Everyone he thought he could trust betrays him and they send him to be tortured. He begs for it to stop as well as begs for them to do it to one of the other ‘anarchists’ who ends up being another who betrayed him. When the song starts, one wonders if it is a Coldplay song with its strong piano influence, but then it comes back to the slow but still powerful Rock ballad Muse is known for.
Then there are “Reapers”, sounding like old school Queens of The Stone Age, and “The Handler” that come together to form a dark, angry, rebellious Metal Rock sound that tells the story of starting to want fight the system, while “Defector,” which sounds like a song The Darkness wrote, and “Revolt,” do as their titles insinuate. As the story continues, and the listener will be rooting for the protagonist, and “Aftermath” slows the pace, but builds everyone up to still cheer them on. It is the song that first reminded one of an old Science Fiction novel, and many will quickly go back to look at all the songs and several well-known Science Fiction novels to see where Muse may have based their artistry inspiration. “Aftermath” is reminiscent of Ayn Rand’s novel Anthem, where Equality 7-2521 starts to break free and find love, as well as the truths the government had been trying to hide, this song is as romantic as it is bleak.
Those who ever needed a song that goes from the potential showdown of an old Western movie, to a slow, Johnny Cash style Country jam, that somehow becomes a heavy Rock song, and then ends like a Queen ballad, “The Globalist” is the song for them. It covers a spectrum of sounds in its ten minute span that leaves people wondering, “Is this the same song?” The insanity of the fact that Bellamy can not only pull of the vocal styling of Mr. Cash as well as the amazing Freddy Mercury, but the fact he could make those two work in the same song, makes you realize the talent Bellamy truly has. The final song, “Drones” is Gospel. There is no other way to describe the song. It is harmonies, a cappella, and all about giving up the fight, accepting people will be killing “from the safety of your home.” Morbid, dark, and just a gut-wrenching ending to the amazing opera Muse created.
Overall, Muse delivers another stellar album, with all their well-known elements that one expects from Muse. The dark underbelly of paranoia, mixed with strong, dark Metal Rock, the hopeful sounds of freedom with their Progressive Techno Rock, and their piecing together of all elements tell one hell of a Science Fiction odyssey. To help tell the story is Bellamy’s unique vocal range and sound, that makes people know that the songs could only be Muse. Drones will make listeners want to keep the album on repeat over and over again. CrypticRock gives Drones 5 out of 5 stars.