Muse is an English rock band formed in 1994 who, along with the album I’m about to review, have released seven albums. The members – Matt Bellamy, Dominic Howard and Chris Wolstenholme – have been in this band since the very beginning, though the band has gone through a few name changes.
Their latest album, Drones, was released in 2015. As most of Muse’s other albums, Drones is a concept album, and it speaks out in lyrical protest against war. Matt Bellamy, the lead vocalist, has said that the album’s themes include deep ecology, the empathy gap and World War III. It explores the loss of empathy through modern technology, as it is “possible to actually do quite horrific things by remote control, at a great distance, without actually feeling any of the consequences, or even feeling responsible in some way”, as Bellamy said in an interview with BBC Radio 1.
With this album, it seems they went back to their roots, as it sounds much more like their earlier albums with all the rock elements, but at the same time, it takes bits and pieces from their previous collection, The 2nd Law; the electronic tones in particular.
The album can be divided into two stories and Matt Bellamy said in an interview that the protagonist of the first one is a woman called Mary, but the protagonist of the second one is a (seemingly nameless) man. Despite the fact that the lyrics mostly seem to be from the viewpoint of a man, we’re going to refer to the first protagonist as she.
The album starts off with "Dead Inside". This is a song which, in my opinion, seems like it should stand alone, since it gives the backstory and incentive to everything that occurs during the rest of the album – the protagonist loses the love of her life, feels lost and vulnerable and due to this is led down a dark path, which is further explored later. The song itself, especially the second half of it, definitely has common elements with the following songs. However, its sound is different, notably in the first half of the song, which is slightly reminiscent of the previous, more electronic sounding album.
Next, the protagonist is met with the Drill Sergeant, whose relentless screaming leads into the next song, "Psycho". Now, the protagonist is brainwashed by the military and throughout the song, we hear the Drill Sergeant yelling at the protagonist, trying to break her down. Although the song is very catchy and makes you want to lose yourself in it while fiercely headbanging, if you truly focus on the message it tries to convey, it turns out it is quite a depressing one. This was the first song that they released on their Youtube channel and it definitely gave me extremely high expectations as to what the rest of the album would sound like.
"Mercy" is a song that gives off a sense of victory. It appears that the protagonist strives to fight against the people trying to control her and the intensely uplifting and hopeful sound of the song gives the impression that she might just succeed. The chord progression used here is one you will find in many songs, but that is not necessarily bad, as I am definitely a sucker for it. Add Matt Bellamy’s vocals and extraordinary piano technique to it and I’m sold. It is no wonder that this is my favourite song off this album.
In "Reapers", the fast-paced beginning is alarming and anxiety-inducing. The beat of the drums and the slightly distorted, cacophonic guitar riff gives the feeling like you’re being chased and like you should definitely be scared of something. The distorted voice, saying things at various times during the song is ominous and warns of something horrible that is yet to come. The ending makes you feel hopeless, like you’ve lost the fight. This song is a stark contrast with the previous one, in the sense that it kills all the hope that we had previously gained. All this is reflected in the story, as Mary loses her hope and goes to war.
"The Handler" is one of the heavier songs on this album and it is about the protagonist trying to break free from her handler’s control, which she eventually succeeds at. This song definitely shows off Matt Bellamy’s range, especially his falsetto and the interesting melodies he can come up with in his songs.
John F. Kennedy’s speech about independence and freedom precedes "Defector". The speech along with the guitar and string instruments in the background give an expectant and once again hopeful feeling, as if something is about to change, and hopefully for the better. "Defector" incites a confident and victorious feeling, as if we have already won and are out of the woods. The lyrics sound bold and even taunting towards the people that were trying to control and manipulate the protagonist, who essentially spits in their face.
"Revolt" paints the picture of an uprising, a recurring theme in Muse’s songs. It’s filled with hopeful tones, and the sirens and chanting clearly show that a change is afoot. The verse is calm and it sort of analyses and debates what has happened and what is going to happen, while the chorus speeds up and sounds positive and inspirational. This song gives off a very Queen-ish feel to me, which makes me love the song even more, as Queen is another favourite of mine.
The beginning to "Aftermath" kind of reminds me of ERA, but it quickly changes to a mix between Mike Oldfield and Pink Floyd, especially the guitar riffs. At first, it sounds sad and melancholic, as it’s about how the protagonist is tired, but she’s done with war and is coming back home to her love. The song grows more hopeful as it progresses, as the protagonist has found her true meaning and place. This song acts as the end to the first story.
However, "The Globalist" shows us a darker version of how the story can play out. It shows us what would happen if the protagonist didn’t break free. The song can be divided into three parts. The first part has a calm, western-like beginning, the guitar and the whistling being the main reasons for the comparison. It makes me feel like any minute now, Antonio Banderas is going to appear and sing something in Spanish. The rhythm of the drums in the background reminds me of a military funeral ceremony, which is pretty accurate when taking into account the unfolding of events in this song. It feels like everything’s decided and there is nothing more anyone can do. The lyrics reveal how the protagonist went through betrayal and not being loved and it’s as if the devil on his shoulder, so to speak, is addressing him in this song, giving him promises and trying to take his mind off all the loss he has experienced.
In the second part of the song, the protagonist pretty much goes off the handle. The guitar and back vocals, and later the drums give off a very ominous vibe. It feels like everything, to put it bluntly, is screwed. Some marching is heard briefly and then a countdown to a rocket launch. It is becoming more and more certain that something resembling an apocalypse is nearing. When the countdown is done, it seems that a war begins, especially because of the drums that sound very similar to war drums.
In the third part, the song suddenly calms down and in comes the classical piano I had been waiting for the whole album – a clear characteristic of Muse – which heavily relies on music based on “Nimrod”, composed by Edward Elgar. The world is conquered, nothing is left and it is revealed that the protagonist just wanted to be loved. All the terror and horrible consequences are said like they’re a minor mistake, for example, the “There’s no countries left to fight and conquer, I think I destroyed them all” part. You think, huh? But you’re not sure?
Finally, the song starts sounding kind of like a victorious hymn for a dictator, due to the chord progression and the vocals. The protagonist shows some regret and remorse for what he has done, but generally it seems that he tries to excuse himself.
"Drones" is a chorale with only Bellamy’s vocals that contains music based on the “Benedictus” by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. The song sounds beautiful, innocent and pure, despite the what it’s actually about – murder, to be precise. It is fitting for the last song of the album, as it sounds like something you would hear during the credits in a movie after all is done.
Drones in general is a story; it takes you on a journey. When you really listen and focus, it’s as if you're living through a movie or a book. It has the emotion, the variety, and that special something that draws you in. True, the lyrics might not always be up to par (evident in "Psycho", for example, with the lyrics “your ass belongs to me now”), but the music, theme, composition and vocals more than make up for it. In conclusion, I can definitely say that my expectations were met. I might be biased, since this is my favourite band we’re talking about, but in my opinion, it cannot be argued that Muse is truly a force to be reckoned with in the music world.