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Muse - Drones CD (album) cover

DRONES

Muse

 

Prog Related

3.13 | 124 ratings

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Insin
4 stars Drones: Muse's seventh album and supposed return to form. Keeping their promise of decreasing (but not eliminating) the symphonic and electronic influences so central to their previous two albums, they have left two main styles struggling for dominance: pop and rock. Piano is still present and important, though secondary to the guitar, symphonic elements appear briefly on a few songs, and after Dead Inside, the electronic parts majorly tone down. And the Queen influence? Still there.

The progressive elements are definitely present as well. While most of the songs don't fit the definition of prog rock, Drones is the band's first concept album. The storyline follows someone who has been broken, and then brainwashed to kill for the military. Eventually, the protagonist fights back and the story ends at Aftermath. (The Globalist a separate storyline and the a cappella/monk chanting title track is the album's outro.)

It is completely unsurprising that Muse has focused their concept album on war and how the government brainwashes us, given themes from previous albums, and the cover art demonstrates it perfectly (notice how we can't see who the largest hand belongs to... remind anyone of Ruled by Secrecy?). Drones is commentary on warfare, psychology, politics, history, and even a touch of religion. The background is fairly complex, but the storyline is simple and easy to follow. The narrative is told well, with Bellamy singing as the protagonist for every track except Psycho, though sometimes it is unclear how or why things happen (for example, how does the protagonist suddenly find love in the Aftermath?). Out of the context of the album, the individual songs usually cannot stand without their lyrics sounding ridiculous, the already-infamous line "your ass belongs to me now" from Psycho being a prime example. Good thing there's no such thing as a casual I-only-listen-to-Muse-on-the-radio fan? right?

While it could be better, Muse does a decent job of making the lyrics fit the music. Defector is the best example of this, as the protagonist begins to become independent of the society and moves towards freedom, and it the song sounds triumphant and proud. However, the subject matter Drones deals with is dark, and in order for the lyrics and music to fully fit, pop songs aren't going to cut it.

The album is split between primarily pop and rock, as a result of the abolishment of electronic and orchestral components. Dead Inside, which sounds like your average, generic pop-alt radio hit, the U2-influenced Mercy, Revolt, and the unbearably cheesy ballad of love Aftermath make up the pop department, and consist of four of the album's ten non-interlude songs. Depending on your preferences, you may or may not want to check them out, but for me, none of these are particularly good.

In the rock department, things are more exciting. Songs like The Handler and Defector display guidance from Royal Blood, the bass sound thick and central. These two songs tend to be operatic and dramatic but fairly heavy, like a cross between Origin of Symmetry and The Resistance. The lead single, Psycho (which I originally hated due to its un-Muse-like excessive cursing) makes much more sense in context of the plotline. It has great energy and a great riff, one that has been around for a long time and now has finally been put to good use.

The album's best offerings lie in Reapers, the fifth song. Let me just say it: riffs. The intro riff and the one played during the Drones chant (main riff), to be specific. It also features what is potentially Bellamy's best soloing and tastefully minimal electronic presence. The noisy outro could have been left out to no loss, but the song is pieced together well and each part has its value. It lies on the unconventional side.

Even more unconventional is The Globalist, Muse's self-described "prog nightmare," only song over ten minutes, and sequel to fan favorite Citizen Erased. By now I've heard plenty of ten minute songs (and I'm sure everyone else who's reading this has as well), but never from Muse. So it's an interesting listen, and the song I was looking forward to hearing the most. The song starts out spacey, western, and reminiscent of tracks Invincible and Knights of Cydonia from the band's fourth album, Black Holes and Revelations. The buildup lasts 4 minutes until a mediocre transition into a good, heavy riff, which plays for about two minutes. The song winds down into a "celebratory" piano ballad of the type that bands will slap onto the end of a prog epic, to give the track a feeling of closure rather than ending it as it peaks in intensity. It's not a bad song, but its major issue is that? it's not long enough. The band spends so much time building up and recovering from the most powerful and exciting portion, the metal riff in the middle, which takes up a disproportionately small part of the song at two minutes/one fifth of The Globalist's runtime. In order to justify the length of the intro and outro, the middle needs to be extended. They could have added another riff, another vocal part, a solo break, or even gotten rid of it. Otherwise, it sounds out of place and completely disrupts the flow of the song. Additionally, The Globalist doesn't have much likeness to Citizen Erased anyway.

Drones is a flawed album. Is it bad? No, although the pop songs are weak and The Globalist is disappointing. There are still good songs on here, Reapers not only one the best song from Drones, but a highlight of their catalogue. If there is one song to hear from this release, it would be this one. But Muse is also becoming more progressive, seeing as Drones is a concept album, and they've even had a go at writing a "ten minute prog nightmare." Hopefully, this, rather than pop, is a path they will continue down.

I would give it three stars musically? but it's a concept album, a first for Muse, and more entertaining and interesting that way. A for effort. Until next album.

Insin | 4/5 |

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