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Album Review: Muse – “Drones”

Two and a half years after the release of The 2nd LawMuse are finally back with their 7th studio album, Drones. The LP drops worldwide on June 8th, but while you wait to hear it for yourself, read on to see our thoughts on the new record!

Though the band’s last two albums were quite thematic, Drones is the first true concept album in the trio’s long career. And, on a narrative level, it more than meets most fans’ high expectations.

Drones brings us the dystopian story of a man who has lost everything (Dead Inside), and is easily sucked into the control of a harsh military dictator, who is climbing to power through brainwashing (Psycho, Mercy) and drone warfare (Reapers). Bellamy’s thoughts on humanity’s lack of empathy and the rise of technology are made quite clear as he takes listeners on a journey through a terrifying dystopia. We follow the protagonist as he finally breaks free from the tyrant’s control (The Handler), leads others in a revolution (Defector, Revolt), and, ultimately, re-discovers hope and new love (Aftermath). The album ends on an ambiguous note, with its final two tracks (The Globalist and Drones) painting a picture of an alternate, more depressing ending to the story. The listener is left to ponder which ending he or she prefers. MuseDronesCover

It’s this compelling story that allows such a diverse mix of tracks to flow so well, and the album is really best enjoyed when listened to from beginning to end. That’s not to say, of course, that these tracks aren’t strong enough to hold up on their own — Drones boasts an impressive range of musical styles, and they are diverse enough that Musers of all tastes should find something to enjoy (though whether or not they enjoy it all is a different story).

Lead single and album opener Dead Inside, for instance, harks back to some of the more electronic influences seen on the band’s previous two albums, while tracks like PsychoReapersDefector, and The Handler (far and away the best song on the album — maybe among Muse’s best ever) bring the focus back to a pure rock sound, with the guitar, bass, and drums taking center stage.

Aftermath and Revolt show two very different examples of a more “pop”-like influence on the album. The former is a slow and beautiful love ballad (which, despite the unnecessary cheesiness in the last minute-and-a-half, works very well). The latter is an upbeat, catchy pop-rock tune (which, fun as it is, does not work quite as well — the over-the-top chorus pushes this track over the edge from fun and campy to cringe-worthy).

And then there’s The Globalist, easily the most hyped-up track of all, with Bellamy himself comparing it to fan-favorite Citizen Erased, and early reviewers singing its praises. And yes, it’s a very good song — certainly in my personal top-five of the album. But after making the mistake of falling for the hype, I paid dearly by feeling a bit let down by this grand, 10-minute-long track. The highlight here is the song’s wonderfully heavy and headbang-worthy midsection, which unfortunately feels about two minutes too short. The piano and powerful vocals of the ending certainly feels more “United States of Eurasia” than “Citizen Erased”, and though it’s a quality track, it was not what I was expecting.

The album ends with the title track, Drones, which is without a doubt the most unusual track ever released by the band. A haunting, multi-layered a capella piece, Bellamy sends us off with a requiem of sorts. And, bizarre as it is, it somehow works in the context of this wonderfully executed concept album.

As a whole, Drones is certainly not without its faults. Most songs are quite weak lyrically, some tracks drag on a bit too long (Psycho and Aftermath for example), some things are not quite long enough (like the heavy section of The Globalist), Revolt is far too cheesy, and there is a definite imbalance in quality between the first and second “acts” of the record.

But there is also so much good on this album to balance out the bad. The concept and narrative is executed brilliantly, making the album flow almost perfectly; the production and sound quality is fantastic; Matt’s voice has never sounded better, and his emotional delivery on tracks like Dead Inside and The Handler is brilliant; the drum and bass rhythms created by Dom and Chris are also phenomenal, the basslines especially — some of Wolstenholme’s best work to date; and the heavier tracks in particular are some of the best songs Muse has had in years.

Drones will not please everyone, but for fans who felt disappointed by The Resistance and The 2nd Law, it’s hard to argue that this is not, at the very least, a step in the right direction. For me, despite its faults, Drones still earns a spot near the top of my list (behind the unbeatable Origin of Symmetry and Absolution, of course!).

For fans who will not hear the album until next week, my advice is to let go of any prior expectations, and go into things with an open mind. There is so much to love about this album, and, though it may not be what everyone is hoping for, it has more than proved that the guys still have “it”, even after all these years!

Overall Rating: 9/10

Can’t Miss Tracks: The Handler (listen below!), Reapers, The Globalist

Full Tracklisting:

1. Dead Inside

2. [Drill Sergeant]

3. Psycho

4. Mercy

5. Reapers

6. The Handler

7. [JFK]

8. Defector

9. Revolt

10. Aftermath

11. The Globalist

12. Drones