Words By: Gerrod Harris
Release Date: June 8th, 2015, via Warner Music
Muse is back with Drones, the highly anticipated follow up to one of their most successful records, The Second Law, released in 2012. The Second Law was certainly one of Muse’s most experimental and absurdly fun albums as they managed to tie together their hard rock tone with elements borrowed from pop and dubstep. Drones, however, sticks close to the traditional sound Muse is known for, which is not a bad thing, but it almost feels like a step backwards from the height they created on The Second Law.
Much to my own surprise, with “Psycho” as the lead single, a hard hitting rock song following classic Muse form, the opening track, “Dead Inside”, resembles a dance tune, with more emphasis on electronic elements, with the instruments only becoming a major part towards the end. Although unexpected, it is a logical step seeing as they are no strangers to dabbling with digital effects. As mentioned above, “Psycho” is a beast of a rock song. Driven by a slightly swung beat, and an aggressive, rhythmic riff, and Matthew Bellamy’s voice belting out melodies as strong as ever. Hands down, “Psycho” is the best song on Drones. A close second would be “Reapers”, which features Bellamy, on more than one occasion, shredding in a manner similar to Eddie Van Halen, a driving verse, and not just one, but two riffs in the chorus, neither short of badass, topped off with an explosive ending. Other great tracks would be “The Handler” and the ten minute epic which is “The Globalists”.
Unfortunately, Drones offers little more than that. “Psycho” and “Reapers” being the third and fifth songs, respectively, of a twelve track album, means that the second half does not feel like an acceleration towards a climax, but rather, a less exciting crawl. “Mercy” feels too similar to every other Muse ballad. “Defector” feels like Muse is trying far too hard to sound like Queen, and while they are certainly a band worth modeling your tone after, they can’t be topped, so instead you get “Defector” which sound like an uncool tribute to Freddie Mercury and Brian May. Much of Drones feels like older Muse material, but with Bellamy’s dramatic vocals cranked up to eleven. The title, and closing track, is a prime example of Bellamy at his most dramatic, and pompous, as he sings a cappella, with the help of himself, layered over each other an unknown amount of times, giving the effect of a church choir, of one. He’s got a great voice, but it is just too much.
Lyrically, Drones is a politically charged, antiwar, anti-police state album. Taking inspiration from modern events seen in North America and Europe, Drones follows the story of what seems to be a soldier who becomes disgusted with the actions he and his government have taken, and chooses to defect, taking a stand against them. The use of drones in warfare has recently become a very controversially discussed topic, although Muse seems to be going beyond the literal definition of the word, and has stretched it, claiming that all soldiers are a drone of some sort. Rather than being electronically controlled, the combined work of their ignorance and patriotism push them forward, fighting wars on the behalf of men in suits. The fact that they are making such a strong statement is great, this is something which modern music often lacks; however, a concept album needs to tell a compelling story, and where this is such a relevant topic, Muse tackles it in such a simple, almost naive manner that a great deal of its significance is lost. It is not impossible to really dig in, and add a layer of depth and complexity to themes such as this, as best demonstrated by Rage Against The Machine.
All in all, Drones is certainly not a bad album, but it is a far fall from where they left off in 2012. What was expected to include much more experimental aspects following The Second Law, Muse included “Dead Inside”, which hardly fuses the electronic and instrumental elements together. That is all which bridges Drones to its predecessor. The rest of the album follows Muse’s traditional form, which is not a bad thing seeing as Muse is a very successful band who can pack in arenas and have released some killer albums, but the lack of variation or experimentation from their norm prevents Drones from really soaring into excellence. Instead they relied on what is almost cliché for them, in order to deliver an overly simplified, less than generic commentary on modern politics. Despite this, there are a handful of songs which really shine, not just above the rest of Drones, but along with some of Muse’s greatest hits. For the true, diehard Muse fan, Drones offers an array of songs which they will likely enjoy, but for the casual fan, Drones will likely feel less exciting, and just too over the top, creating a less than favorable album experience.
1: Dead Inside
2: [Drill Sergeant]
6: The Handler
11: The Globalist