Review Summary: The drones all slave away
It is not uncommon for a band to claim that they will undergo a “return to roots”, leaving behind any experimentation that allowed them to stray from their original path and heading back to the sound that made them revered in the first place. The problem with these declarations is that the whole concept of a “return of roots” is overused and clichéd, and many times it just comes off as nothing more than hollow statements. Often when musicians say they will revert back to their original sound, they do so in a way that’s watered down from their maximal potential, leaving fans still unsatisfied. Muse had done almost everything they could to change their musical direction, dabbling in bombast and grandiose on 2009’s The Resistance
and then taking it one step further by incorporating electronic elements and dubstep on 2012’s The 2nd Law
. Two years ago, frontman Matt Bellamy said, “I kind of feel like it will be nice to reconnect and remind ourselves of just the basics of who we are” – but fans questioned just how true his claims were.
doesn’t feel like an exact return to roots, but it’s far closer than most people would have expected. While traits of The Resistance
and The 2nd Law
can still be found in tracks like the Depeche Mode / Queen / Muse hybrid lead single “Dead Inside”, for the most part, this album feels like the spiritual successor to Black Holes and Revelations
. Musically, Matt Bellamy lays down a handful of highlights on the guitar, especially on the riff-heavy “Reapers”. As soon as the introduction kicks in, the song’s tone is automatically set, and it doesn’t disappoint. Fast and furious, the track is precisely what Muse had to make in order to be taken seriously again. The main riff is nothing short of technically impressive, played at an incredibly fast tempo that radiates chaos, while the solo bears some semblance sonically and thematically to an emergency alarm. There’s even a potential nod to Rage Against the Machine’s “Freedom”. The song’s lyrics also add to the frantic mood, with Bellamy singing, “Home, it’s becoming a killing field, there’s a crosshair locked onto my heart… hellfire, you’re walking in the crossfire”. Instrumentally speaking, “Reapers” is probably the most stunning track Muse has released in the past half-decade.
Had this album been released directly after Black Holes and Revelations
, it probably would have come off as a bit of a disappointment, but as the successor to two consecutive blunders, the overall sound of Drones
is welcome with open arms. Bringing back the alternative rock that Muse were known for pre-2009, tracks like “The Handler” or “Defector” deliver on the band’s promise for a more rock-oriented direction. The former actually sounds like something off of Absolution
, with its slow, sharp-cutting riff and Bellamy’s soaring vocals and wonderful use of falsetto. “Defector” is segued into by “[JFK]”, which, if the title didn’t give it away, is a fifty-five second clip of Kennedy’s “Conspiracy” speech. The song actually takes a lot from The Resistance
, with its bombastic vocal layering and overall stadium-sized anthemic feel. However, it’s composed well enough for the cheese factor to not be a problem.
builds just enough momentum to seemingly propel it over the finish line, but the last meter stretch is exactly where it all falls apart. “Revolt” is an absolutely worthless song, containing no substance to justify its existence. The tempo change in the chorus is completely unwarranted, and the whole pace of the song feels completely off. “The Globalist”, hyped up as the sequel to one of Muse’s greatest songs, “Citizen Erased”, is ten minutes long, but those ten minutes are spent lazily linking together soft and loud parts, and the execution is terrible enough to make the whole track seem disjointed. Drones
’ flow actually works pretty well for the most part; aside from the lyrical wasteland that is “Psycho” and its accompanying skit “[Drill Sergeant]”, the album hits its stride quickly, with “Reapers” leading the way. It’s not until the end that the ideas don’t seem to mix well together, forming the discombobulated conclusion to Drones
After all, this a concept album about a man who becomes programmed by society and the military to become a “human drone” before revolting against the order that he subscribed to. The political message that Bellamy is selling isn’t exactly complex or original (then again, this is a man who believed 9/11 to be a conspiracy for the majority of the 21st century), and at times just feels forced and tired. The whole “concept” of Drones
leads to some pretty dissatisfying lyrics, including the infamous “your ass belongs to me now” from “Psycho”, the constant repetition of the word “drone” in practically every track, and the in-your-face political themes that occupy a significant portion of the album’s words.
I suppose the greatest accomplishment of Drones
is that it shows how what Muse can do with their talent. There’s no denying the strength of a track like “Reapers” or “The Handler” – and just how vital its existence in determining the band’s potential for the future. While not quite the return-to-roots that Matt Bellamy advertised earlier, there’s enough quality material on here to show that they haven’t completely lost it yet. It’s a small rebound from The Resistance
and The 2nd Law
, and the emphasis on the more rock-heavy sound has shown to be effective. If Muse nix the overtly political subject matter and focus more on creating a stronger end to the record, there’s still hope that album numero eight will be a return to form.