Drones by Muse: Album Review

Drones is the seventh studio album from the English rock band, Muse. If you’re unfamiliar with their music, this album is a great summary of their sound: progressive, alternative, hard, and with a hint of space rock. This album was released on the fifth of June Australia and America and on the eighth in The United Kingdom, and so far has received mostly positive reviews. However, the most important thing you need to know about this album is that it has a very obvious theme.

On first glance the song titles seem fairly innocuous, as soon as you look at the album art (as you should be able to see above) it immediately becomes clear that the album is making a political statement about the use of modern technology in warfare. With this in mind, listening to the album becomes a journey of displacement and helplessness (Dead Inside); to surrendering to the emotionless psychotic rule of a life filled with killing people with drones (Drill Sergeant and Psycho); turning to a realisation of one’s actions (Mercy and Reapers); following a decision to break free from the destructive life the subject has led (The Handler and JFK); concluding with a rebellion (Defector and Revolt) and the fall-out (Aftermath, The Globalist and Drones).

In order the track listings on the album are as follows:

  1. Dead Inside
  2. [Drill Sergeant]
  3. Psycho
  4. Mercy
  5. Reapers
  6. The Handler
  7. [JFK]
  8. Defector
  9. Revolt
  10. Aftermath
  11. The Globalist
  12. Drones

When it comes to the music of this album, there’s quite a bit of contrast and innovation, although this innovation is not anything new within the industry it’s striking because of the effect it has on the concept of the album. The first instance of this is the repetitive catch phrase ‘psycho psycho’ in the song of the same title, in unison with the guitar which really lends itself to the idea of losing one’s mind and becoming psychotic. Adding to this, there are also three instances of sound sampling with two being obvious (the ‘motivational’ yelling in Drill Sergeant and one of John F Kennedy’s most famous speeches in JFK), the third a faint sample of what I gather is some sort of solo hymn in an extremely large, echoing space like a church. This third sample occurs at the beginning of Aftermath, which lends itself to an exceptional sonic picture of stillness, relief and loneliness which occurs after an intense battle and major losses.

Some of the other impressive tidbits that may be of interest to those of a more musically traditional type, are the use of Bach-like broken chords that revolve around a particular note played by the guitar in The Handler, as well as a very eighties, progressive rock style chorus effect on the lyrics ‘from society’ in Defector. Also in The Handler there is a distinctly mechanical and slow 1-2 beat that lends itself to the imagery of the song which can be summarised in the lyrics: ‘my heart has become a cold and impassive machine’. Of course, the other very important tidbit is the entirety of the song Drones, being completely set up in four-part vocal counterpoint. The lyrics themselves are not at all traditional, with the most repetitive lyrics ‘killed by drones’; however it is instantly obvious that this was exactly the right setting for such content, conveying a feeling of contrasting peace and uneasiness.

There are many great riffs in this album, especially in Dead Inside, Psycho, Reapers and The Handler. One of my favourite parts of the music is in The Handler where at the end of every chorus there is a dominant to tonic cadence and the band stops for a beat before resolving to the tonic chord. To me, this is a great use of silence to create suspense, because the listener expects the dominant to resolve in that silent beat but it doesn’t and it really grabs your attention. However, I felt that in Defector the overlap of the beat through a slight slide in the guitar during the guitar part immediately after the chorus did not come across as intentional and therefore sounded a little lazy, as well as the guitar and back up vocals in the chorus of Revolt coming across as cheesy. I also did not enjoy the use of the computerised vocal sounds in the chorus of Reapers, and most of The Globalist which to me sounded corny. Overall the album is great and shows the composition abilities of the group with, as usual, fantastic riffs and solos as well as a reinvigorated bass and percussion section. I give it 8/10.

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