Muse, “Drones” (Warner Music)
Tracks: 1. Dead Inside (4:24), 2. [Drill Sergeant] (0:21), 3. Psycho (5:17), 4. Mercy (3:52), 5. Reapers (6:00), 6. The Handler (4:34), 7. [JFK] (0:55), 8. Defector (4:33), 9. Revolt (4:06), 10. Aftermath (5:48), 11. The Globalist (10:07), 12. Drones (2:52)
Muse have returned to their heavier, progressive roots with their latest album, “Drones.” After venturing into pop rock and dubsteppy techno pop garbage on 2012’s “The 2nd Law,” the three piece, made up of Matt Bellamy on guitars, vocals, and keyboards, Chris Wolstenholme on bass, and Dominic Howard on drums, decided that they wanted to hit number 1 on the US charts. To accomplish this, they turned to veteran AC/DC producer, Robert John Lange. It worked, and “Drones” became the band’s first #1 album in the US.
Now, you wouldn’t really expect a concept album to go to the top of the charts in this day and age, but that is exactly what happened. “Drones” is indeed a full fledged concept album about a dystopic society controlled by a government that dictates its citizens’ every move. Thus the title, “Drones.” The funniest part about all this is that the majority of people listening to this don’t even realize that it is prog, much less know what prog is. Some reviews I have read claim that the concept doesn’t really work, but I disagree. I think it works just fine, and it is incredibly applicable to today’s changing governmental policies in the West.
The story begins with despair and rage against a government that won’t allow its people to think. In the middle, we see the main character(s) (there really isn’t a character like in “2112,” but there is first person, implying a character) attempting to defect and revolt. In “Aftermath,” that character wishes everything were over. The album ends with survivors of the destruction (caused by the revolt) learning to live in the new world they have created.
The jewel of this album is the song, “Aftermath.” This song is to 2015 what Flying Colors’ “Peaceful Harbor” was to 2014. Muse really nailed it with this song – it is incredibly beautiful. The guitar work combined with haunting vocals and orchestra make this one of the top songs of the year. “The Globalist,” Muse’s longest song to date, is quite progressive, merging from quiet to a heavier rock towards the end. The album ends perfectly with Bellamy singing a sort of a cappella hymn (he sings several different parts that are overlaid). It is stunning.
The second half of “Drones” is much stronger musically and lyrically than the first half, although “Mercy” and “Reapers” are excellent tracks, with the latter having enough time signature changes to make even the most ADD prog fans happy. However, the poor lyrics in the chorus of “Pyscho” are offensive and sophomoric. The short “[Drill Sergeant]” intro to the song is rather annoying as well, creating more of a distraction. The re-emergence of the drill sergeant in the song itself also draws away from the music. The short JFK speech later in the album works, however (despite my great distaste for the President as both a politician and a human being).
Another misstep for this album is the packaging. I decided to pony up and buy the cd, thinking it would come in a nice jewel case. Instead, it came in a cardboard sleeve, which I found to be quite lame, particularly from such a major record label like Warner. However, the booklet has artwork for each individual song, and it is quite stunning. The artwork really adds depth to each song. I’m sure the vinyl package is probably pretty nice.
Despite the few minor missteps in “Drones,” Muse created one of the best albums of their career with their most recent output. The fact that it is one of their most successful gives me hope for a possible growing popularity of prog, although I assume most people are ignoring the best songs in favor of the more radio friendly “Dead Inside” or other such pieces. “Aftermath” and “The Globalist” are transcendently awesome in a way most people might gloss over. The balance of hard rock, piano, keyboards, classical music, and Chris’s awesome bass riffs (the dude is a beast) make this an incredibly enjoyable album to listen to, faults and all. It is definitely one of the top releases of 2015, across any genre.