Our Take: Muse’s “Drones” Strikes Hard But Doesn’t Stick The Landing

Muse © Danny Clinch

Our Rating

Music that expresses a strong message can be beautiful, powerful, and even persuasive. After all, what is music, if not an artistic vessel for meaningful expression? The age-old aural art has been used on all sides of every equation – to celebrate and to mourn, to declare love and to express hate. It has been the hymn of the victors as well as the battle cry of the oppressed, the minority, and the dissident. Enter Muse’s Drones.

Muse have a very strong message to get across, and they stop just shy of shouting it from the mountaintops on Drones, their newly-released seventh studio album. Released June 9 via Warner Bros. RecordsDrones offers a thoughtfully complex commentary on the past century’s dystopian science fiction fears that are becoming our reality with every passing day, turning a critical eye on modern warfare (and the technological advances therein), oppression, and dehumanization.

Muse’s signature cinematic rock burns bright with the zealous furor of sociopolitical activism. The band didn’t bother masking their concept album’s subject; what with its hotly controversial one-word name and unapologetically stark, vivid album art (thanks to the talented Matt Mahurin), Drones hits the “human drone” theme square on the head. My first reaction to the album art – not even the recorded music – brought to mind the Stanford Prison Experiment and George Orwell’s 1984. A large, Big Brother-like hand holding a joystick where a human head should be; in turn, the headless person’s hand covers a joystick that perhaps controls the myriad soldier-stance bodies on the monitor screen. One simply cannot call this an apocalyptic or futuristic image anymore – not in a world where governments in the “Free World” spy on their own citizens and use semi-automated machinery to wage wars and kill people hundreds of miles away.

Drones is a fittingly epic soundtrack from a notoriously bombastic band. It is one reprise away from being a rock opera and two colossal choruses away from being off-puttingly preachy. This is far from the first time that Muse has gotten political; in fact, you can find political commentary on each of the band’s albums. As far as British rockers go, Muse are a very socially conscious trio.

Muse © Danny Clinch

Muse © Danny Clinch

What sets Drones apart is its breathtakingly intense, in-your-face approach. Muse’s first stab at a concept album is remarkably impressive: Drones explores a human’s journey from abandonment and hopelessness to indoctrination as a “human drone” and eventual defection, according to the band’s principal songwriter, Matt Bellamy. (source)

A stunningly cohesive record – both in music, and in content – Drones strikes close to home and hits its target in an unwaveringly direct manner. Any illustrative metaphors or cryptic allusions drifting within the album’s lyrics are drowned out by an overwhelmingly blatant storyline. Perhaps this IS a dystopian rock opera disguised as a Muse concept album!

Bathed in that hard-hitting experimental rock sound that Muse first introduced to us over fifteen years ago, Drones flies high as a back-to-basics album and wins with its superb music quality, production and sonic diversity, but its overt text leaves us wanting something more from the lyrics. One can only take so much on a single subject, and while Drones doesn’t quite come off as preachy, it lacks the multifaceted, colorful idiosyncrasies that made other concept albums – from Rush’s 2112, to Green Day’s American Idiot, and The Who’s Tommy – into instant classics.

A word of wisdom for band’s wishing to get their strong messages across through their music: Switch things up every once in a while! You can’t paint a beautiful foreground and neglect the background.

What really struck me about Drones is its music. Each of the record’s ten songs sounds like the marriage of two other, unlikely acts. See below for some wild comparisons.

Watch: “Dead Inside” – Muse

 

Drones – Muse

Listen: Drones (album) – Muse

Muse © Gavin Bond

Muse © Gavin Bond

1) Dead Inside* – Radiohead and U2 – A bombastic, Def Leppard-like entrance gives way to a heavy beat driven by a dark bass riff. This song has everything: A dystopian storyline, guitar solos, an anthemic, melodic breakdown, and a huge, symphonic chorus. To pull off this caliber of music, you have to give it 100%… Muse give it 200%.
2) [Drill Sergeant]
3) Psycho – George Thorogood and Audioslave
4) Mercy*  – The Killers and Sam Smith
5) Reapers  – Guns N’ Roses and Metallica
6) The Handler*  – Rush and The Killers

You were my oppressor
And I have been programmed to obey
And now you are my handler
And I will execute your demands
Leave me alone
I must disassociate from you

7) [JFK]
8) Defector  – Nirvana and Modest Mouse
9) Revolt*  – Meatloaf, Sam Smith, and R.E.M.
10) Aftermath  – Nazareth and Poison
11) The Globalist*  – This epic ten-minute number deserves more than two artist comparisons. Listen for yourself to experience the beauty of Muse at their best; the band does more in ten minutes than most artists can accomplish in a lifetime.
12) Drones*  – Queen and Bach

* = key tracks

Killed by drones
My mother, my father,
My sister and my brother
My son and my daughter
killed by drones
Our lives between… Finger and your…
Can you feel anything? Are you dead inside?
Now you can kill
From the safety of your home
With drones

Watch: “Mercy” – Muse

Drones - Muse

Learn more about Muse online at muse.mu

Like Muse on Facebook  /  Follow Muse on Twitter

The Breakdown

Mitch Mosk

Mitch is the Editor-in-Chief of Atwood Magazine and a 2014 graduate from Tufts University, where he pursued his passions of music and psychology. He currently works at Universal Music Group in New York City. In his off hours, Mitch may be found songwriting, wandering about one of New York's many neighborhoods, or writing an article on your next favorite artist for Atwood. Mitch's words of wisdom to fellow musicians and music lovers are thus: Keep your eyes open and never stop exploring. No matter where you go, what you do or who you are with, you can always learn something new and inspire something amazing. Say hi here: mitch[at]atwoodmagazine[dot]com