ALBUM REVIEW: MUSE’S DRONES
Muse released their new album, Drones, on June 9th. As usual, the album has some pretty heavy political content and extravagant arrangements. Although the band has touted this album as a return to their more guitar-driven era of Absolution and Black Holes and Revelations (their best work to date), I feel the album is truthfully an amalgamation of everything they have done so far in their career. It also reaffirms my feelings that lead singer Matthew Bellamy is our generation’s Freddie Mercury (see my previous blog, “Shreddie Mercury“) while stirring up the notion that he has a bit of Brian May and Eddie Van Halen in him as well. This is, of course, not to downplay the fabulous work of Muse’s rhythm section: bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard, who more than step up to the plate, as usual. Here’s the Play by Play of the new Mutt Lange produced disc:
1. “Dead Inside“
Normally, Muse set up their albums with a slow-building opening song that sounds like an introduction of what is to come (see “Absolution Please” or “Take a Bow”). This time, they come straight out the gate with a blockbuster of a lead single. “Dead Inside” is this album’s “Supermassive Black Hole”, if you will, with incredible stacked harmonies, a sickeningly catchy rhythm pattern and some nifty guitar work from Bellamy alongside Muse’s continued great use of computer/laser-y noises.
2. “Drill Sergeant“
Not a song, but a 21 second intro for “Psycho”. The thing I love about this interlude is that this is not material sampled from, say, Full Metal Jacket although that is what it sounds like. No, Muse have hired an actor (I assume) to read lines someone wrote to really hammer home the whole “modern-warfare-is-manipulating-innocent-citizens-and-destroying-the-future-of-humanity” vibe to their concept album. Message received, boys!
All the “punters” in the U.K. will be singing this guitar riff all summer and beyond (I love that they do that with guitar parts). Basically a sexy blues riff in drop D tuning, “Psycho” is actually based on a riff Muse have been playing for years as a jam, live, usually at the end of “Stockholm Syndrome”. It’s clearly a heavy-handed statement about how militaries forcibly turn young men into killing machine “drones”, giving the title dual meaning (along with the remote control flying death machines of the same name). One thing is for sure, this is one of the biggest steps back to the Origins of Symmetry days of guitar driven Muse tunes.
It would be hard for any Muse fan to not think “Starlight Part II” with the piano during the intro/verses and the drum beat being pretty much identical, although everyone loved that song, so who cares? The chorus is beyond over the top with the first true Queen homage as well. I didn’t love how up-beat this song was, at first, for the beginning of a very dark concept album, but after a few spins, it sits nicely in the track order.
This one starts out with a guitar part that is very “Eruption” by Van Halen, showing that Matthew Bellamy is, indeed, better than everyone at just about everything (singing, guitar, piano, social commentary, impregnating famous actresses…). His take, however, comes off less as a look-what-I-can-do 80s guitar wankfest and more like a creepy, evil computer harbinger of a takeover on the horizon. The song overall feels like fast, space-y reggae with a guitar part in the chorus that also evokes a bit of Living Color. I also feel that the melody in the chorus reminds me of Madonna’s “Express Yourself”, although I’ve been told several times I’m reaching on that one. Maybe I just like 80s Madonna.
6. “The Handler“
The fellas take it down in tempo a bit and Dom gets to some interesting percussion bits early on this one. There are some cool echo-y vocals and a great, absolutely filthy bass line, but this track comes off as one of the weakest (although, on an album this good, its hardly an insult). Bellamy wails all over the place and, once again, my-brother-in-drums Dom Howard does some of his best work here, changing feel, tempos and using great dynamics. This dude is really quite underrated!
As a history teacher, this is one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever heard on an album. Another interlude, this one is a speech JFK delivered in 1961 about the evils of the USSR. Jacky boy never actually mentions the Soviets by name so, in the context of the album, the listener cannot help but conclude that he is, somehow, speaking about the current state of the U-S-of-A (and some other western powers, to be fair). A twisted, secretive government who want to rule by fear and slowly take away personal freedoms? Yeah, sounds kinda familiar, although I’m not hitting the panic button and running into a bunker just yet either. Coupled with great bursts of guitar feedback, this track is a haunting warning from JFK…FROM THE GRAVE!!!
Another one of my favorites, this one might be the best of the bunch. A sliding guitar riff that is beyond cool, more Queen inspired choral vocals and, this time, even a Brian-May-esque guitar solo at the end. Bellamy must have read my blog about him being the new Freddie Mercury and thought, ‘I’ll show that fucker that I’m, apparently, EVERYONE in Queen!’ If this guy starts playing Roger Taylor inspired drum solos, I’m going to assume that he is a robot trying to “hide in plain sight” by making an album about the evils of robots and artificial intelligence. The chorus of this tune, also, is brilliant. People will surely “defect” from their jobs, parents and any other authority figure to this tune, although I have a feeling Muse have a bigger statement in mind.
This tune is definitely my least favorite. The chorus is absolutely ridiculous. Far too upbeat and happy sounding for a song called “Revolt” and there are vocal jabs that are all but blatantly stolen from “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Again, no one else can really steal Queen’s music as it is impossible to replicate unless you are an absolute musical juggernaut, so I can’t hate too much. Maybe a step over the line between influence and straight up theft, but I love the cajones it takes to make that call!
A surprisingly happy ending to a pretty fucked up story, it appears the fellas wanted to end with a slow burner that leads to a blast of musical positivity at the end. With a bluesy intro, Axis: Bold as Love Jimi-style middle and Slash-y “November Rain” grandiose guitar solo ending, its a hell of a way to end a concept album (although maybe the next song is the “end”, but whatever).
11. “The Globalist“
Trying to adequately describe a 10-minute song is no easy task but here goes nothing. The first few minutes slightly resemble “Knights of Cydonia” with some half cowboy, half Star Trek whistlin’. There is a nice little bit of a marching snare from Dom Howard as well, another great skill of his I feel goes unnoticed. Things get a bit more heavy with some heavy rocking in the middle alongside a countdown to what I can only guess is the end of the world. After the explosion of drumming, guitars and piano, Bellamy jumps back in with some of the most poignant lyrics of the album. “There’s no countries left to fight and conquer/I think I destroyed them all/It’s human nature/The greatest hunter will survive them all…with no one left to love”.
Just when things couldn’t get any more amazingly weird, even for a Muse album, Bellamy hits us with a hymn of nothing but heavily layered vocals with lyrics even more startling than the previous track:
Killed by Drones
My mother, My father, My sister and my brother
My son and my daughter, Killed by drones
Our lives between your fingers, Can you feel anything?
Are you dead inside? Now you can kill from the safety of your home with drones
There is no doubt that this might very well be Muse’s greatest album so far. Musically, I could pick a few I like better (although this one’s killer) but the statement being made couldn’t be more important. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, I would hope we could all agree that killing people with remote control death machines from the safety of a military base is fucked up. The mental anguish the people who actually defend our countries suffer is fucked up, too. If you don’t agree, then maybe were as screwed as Bellamy and co. have laid it out for us.
Anyone else feeling like a move to Canada?
Written by Alt 360º Blogger – Jason Polakowski