Drones: Machines specially designed for combat and equipped with cameras with the specific intention of spying on the enemy. Given that you’re on the right side of these war machines, you’ve probably got a good edge in combat. However, if you’re in their line of sight, you better be ready to run for your life. Muse has taken this concept and brought it to life in full form with the release of their new album, by the same name. It’s no secret that this UK rock trio knows how to write some captivating music, nor that they know how to work a concept to their advantage… but Drones takes it to a new level. While we’ve seen a good bit of electronic elements in their previous two albums, Drones definitely uses them in abundance, bending and shaping them to the theme. Muse has never been one to just make “music.” No, instead they want the listener to be taken on a journey. An aural soundscape is what awaits you with each listen of a Muse record.. something that no other band has been able to imitate the way they do. How does Drones stack up to its predecessor, 2012’s The 2nd Law?
Opening up with the bouncy, bass-driven “Dead Inside” was the perfect way to begin. “Drones” is a concept album following the protagonist’s journey from abandonment to indoctrination as a “human drone” and eventual defection”, vocalist Matt Bellamy explained in an interview with Gigwise. In the 21 years that this band has been alive, you’ll clearly have noticed what a master Bellamy is at his craft, be it his vocals, his performance or his lyrics… he always finds a way to surpass himself. “Dead Inside” seemingly tells the tale of two lovers who are at the end of their rope because the male character is joining the military. As the song progresses, we find that he’s given all he can give and is wanting to do this to better their relationship. Clearly, the female character isn’t fond of the idea and gives an ultimatum… which, ultimately, leaves him abandoned and cold. As the song ends, we begin to see the primal instinct within him growing stronger. As “[Drill Sergeant]” leads us into “Psycho,” we’re treated to a drill sergeant commanding his recruits, quickly working to turn them into well-oiled human Drones.
“Psycho” is one of my favorite tracks on the album, and for good reason. It shows how quickly a drill sergeant can harden their recruits, it shows the dedication and the massive amounts of work they put into the process. “I’m gonna make you/I’m gonna break you/I’m gonna make you/A fucking psycho,” Bellamy belts out in the chorus. The military is brain-washing him into thinking that he does not need love, he does not need anyone… which he embraces. “I could use someone like you/Someone who’ll kill on my command/And asks no questions.” The reason I love this track so much is because it shows how quickly Muse can “flip a switch”, so to speak. That is, going from a bouncy, fun-sounding track to something heavy, dark and angry.
We’re then treated to “Mercy”, which shows our protagonist begging for mercy… begging to be shown the light in this dark path that he’s being led down. The 2nd song on this album, it shows the softer side of the band and, in essence, of the album.
A little further down the road, after our “human drone” is defected, we’re led into a melancholy, 10-minute adventure called “The Globalist.” While the vocal portion of the track comes about 3 minutes in, the instrumental builds up to it beautifully. Led-in with slide guitar, military-style marching snare and fast, western-style strumming on an acoustic guitar this track incorporates everything we love about Muse into one track. After the vocal portion, a choir comes in and the track takes a heavier, darker turn. As we build up, the full band joins in and we’re led out of the dark by some amazing solo work. As Bellamy takes us through the final portion of the track, it’s like our defected drone sees a bright light. He realizes the destruction he’s caused and he laments, wanting only to be loved in the end. The military tricked him into thinking that he would be taken care of, that he would be loved by them… but in the end, he was only abandoned by them as well.
Drones sees Muse in top form, boasting some of the band’s best work in their entire career. Bellamy’s guitar work is better than ever, his keyboard parts are placed perfectly, never too overbearing or boring. In addition, it’s rare that I can commend a bassist like I do with Christopher Wolstenholme. Does Drones have what it takes to make album of the year lists? Absolutely, you’ve never heard a better album by them. While the beginning may feel a bit underwhelming, it’s designed to feel that way… they perfectly orchestrate the creation and, eventually, destruction of a being who wants nothing more than to be loved. In the end, isn’t that what all of us want? In essence, we are all Drones and I urge you to pick up this masterpiece and indulge all of your senses. See the world through the eyes of a complete killing machine. Drones will be released tomorrow, June 9th, on Warner Bros/Helium-3!
Matt Bellamy – Lead vocals/guitar/piano/keyboards
Christopher Wolstenholme – Bass guitar/backing vocals
Dominic Howard – Drums/Percussion/Synthesizers