By Jennifer Quinlin
Warner Music - Released June 5th, 2015
After listening to the 7th album by Muse I felt a little like I'd been kicked in the face. I don't know that any album has left me as perplexed as 'Drones'. Trying to anticipate any new release by this band is a challenge but this one, hailed as a return to roots, is possibly the most confronting yet. I've been a fan of the band long enough to know to expect the unexpected, I just don't know that unexpected even begins to cover this journey.
This is a concept album, in as much as that is a broad term for anything with a theme, and it is most definitely a progression from track 1, 'Dead Inside' through to track 12 'Drones'. To appreciate Matthew Bellamy's story of a person losing hope and falling prey to the control of dark forces,
indoctrinated if you will, through their battle against said forces to their ultimate defection you need to listen to this in order. This is not a "throw it on shuffle" album. That said, it's a mighty confronting ride.
'Dead Inside' sets the tone for the story - loss of hope, in the guise of a broken love story. It's not quite a ballad. Very emotional lyrics about a partner's complete lack of soul and the struggle with that, before succumbing to the same fate. Bellamy's voice is strong and beautiful here.
'Psycho' is where we are exposed to the antagonists of the story. Here are the dark forces blasting their way in to suck up all the soulless and convert them into their puppets. Their drones. This song has a distinct'Uprising' feel to it, with the thumping rhythm, and the inevitable sing-along bound to come at the opportunity to scream "a fucking psycho", and "your ass belongs to me now" at the top of your lungs. This will be monster live. This track also features a riff that fans will recognise as the outro to Stockholm Syndrome andMap of the Problematique.
'Mercy' opens with a piano that brings 'Starlight' to mind. Here the protagonist realises he is succumbing to the dark forces. It's a pop/rock blend and quite the earworm.
'Reapers' is up next. This track, when released prior to the album, was one that had me feeling like we were getting an album containing "old" Muse. It's frenetic, and in-your-face. Old-school but new. One of the best tracks, with the live outro from Plug In Baby incorporated, and heavy
references to Rage Against The Machine.
'The Handler' is my favourite track on this album by a country mile. This is the siren's call luring all the lost Muse fans home. Listening to this you can forgive the glitch in the matrix that led to Neutron Star Collision and all things Twilight. Chris Wolstenholme delivers unapologetically filthy,
grungy bass in this song, yet he also possesses a feather-light touch that dances across the frets and, coupled with Dominic Howard's massive drums it is one of the darkest works to date. Lyrically our protagonist reaches a turning point and realises he does not want to be controlled.
Following 'The Handler' is a 54 second track featuring John F. Kennedy speaking on communism, subversion, and stealth. Backed by strings it leads directly into 'Defector'. Queen harmonies abound. The heavily distorted bass is a nice contrast to the vocals, but overall the song feels a bit
repetitive. The protagonist is shaking himself of the shackles of the dark forces and there's a lighter feel. It is book-ended by JFK's speech.
'Revolt' follows on and this is one with which I struggled. A startling burst of pop optimism which is almost too much perk to handle after the depths of what has gone before. The lyrics are all about inspiration and hope, but to these ears it sounded all a bit Eurovision. As with many things Muse there's a strong possibility it will grow into a favourite, but right about now I'm squirming in my chair.
'Aftermath' is a welcome relief, opening with strings and guitar which brings Dire Straits to mind momentarily. Here is a ballad in emotional opposition to 'Dead Inside'. Some beautiful, delicate guitar by Bellamy in this, before it rises to a more anthemic climax. The protagonist has found love, and hope, once again.
'The Globalist' opens with whistling and some serious Morricone vibes, then moves into a slide guitar section, before the vocals begin and tell the tale of the rise and fall of a dictator. Bellamy stated during an interview on Radio 1 that this was the sequel to 'Citizen Erased'. The middle
section of this track suddenly goes mental - with a heavy riff that seems to be 'Helsinki Jam' from the Resistance Tour gigs. This section is a corker - a face-melting corker that ends all too soon as it fades into a piano solo by Bellamy.
'Drones' is the final track - a hymnal, A capella song with layers of Bellamy vocals. It is an eerie and ghostly lament to the victims of drone warfare.
Have they returned to their roots? Maybe. This is definitely them sans the electronics and dubstep they've previously visited. When they hit their rock stride they're as bold and unique as ever they were, and possibly the strongest sound of their careers. Bellamy is a frighteningly intelligent man and leaves you pondering if he's a genius, bat-shit crazy, or both. Certainly he is a deep-thinker andhis fascination with the disconnect between humanity and society is more than relevant, as is the loss of empathy to which this album alludes.
Hard to know how to rate this one because I'm still trying to digest what I've heard. As a concept album it holds true to its story, with strong and clear arcs, it's just some of the steps along the way where I'm not sure if it stumbles or I do in the wake of Bellamy's thought processes. There are many really beautiful, creative, and clever musical elements to this album. I suspect Muse will continue to divide listeners, as they always have, and just maybe that's perfectly fine with them.