No person could accuse British progressive rockers Muse of being drones. From their formation back in 1994 to now, the theatrical trio have carved out a section of popular music just for themselves.
Influenced musically and stylistically by the likes of Queen, Radiohead and Pink Floyd, Muse have established themselves as a live act like no other. Combining elements of space rock, hard rock and electronica, the band have achieved cult-like status around the world and sell-out stadiums of heaving die-hards wherever they go.
Following on from 2012’s resources apocalypse The 2nd Law comes a newbie, Drones, and it’s a fully-fledged concept album. In a not too distant future, the human race have become lumbering, lobotomised “drones”, traumatised and re-trained as psycho killers by elusive but ruthless dictators.
This 12-track epic explores the journey from mammal to machine, and of course, the eventual rebellion. It’s an idea that has always loosely compelled conspiracy-loving frontman Matt Bellamy, and can be most obviously traced back to 2003’s Absolution and 2009’s Resistance with songs such as ‘Apocalypse Please’, ‘Time Is Running Out’ and ‘Uprising’.
Intensely dramatic opener ‘Dead Inside’ is splintered by electronic executions (think ‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable), with Bellamy’s polarised vocals beamed over the top. Co-produced by Muse and Robert John “Mutt” Lange (the Zambian-born, British record producer & songwriter whose producing credits include AC/DC, Def Leppard and The Boomtown Rats), the seventh studio album is a chronological symphony. Thumping percussion beats drop in and out of existence, splintering by Chris Wolstenholme’s head lolling baselines and face-melting guitar solos courtesy of Bellamy’s lightening-fast fingers.
Interludes like ‘[Drill Sergeant]’ reinforce the conceptual nature of the record. Just like in Pink Floyd’s iconic The Wall, this old-school style snippet features an officer scolding a soldier, bleeding perfectly into the spectacularly menacing ‘Psycho’ – the highlight of the album. With the refrains “a f**king psycho!” and “your ass belongs to me now”, saying it all, played out over a killer bombastic bass and guitar score.
One of the few uplifting numbers comes next, ‘Mercy’. It’s a hopeful plea by Bellamy, but to no avail as the distorted waves that are ‘Reapers’ and puppetry nightmare ‘The Handler‘ (a more polished and precise ‘Micro Cuts’) kick in, both boasting a metal-heavy riff that’ll knock your socks off. Even the graphics of the lyric videos are impressive!
‘Defector’ is the biggest throwback to rock opera legends Queen, with all three participating in the mega mantra harmony “I’m free from society!” Bellamy’s distinctive, futuristic falsetto soars over a barrage of beats and synths, mimicking the distorted wails and sonic gymnastics of his guitar. Gone too are the days of the harsh breath intakes of Origin Of Symmetry.
‘Revolt’ is the most pop-friendly on Drones, and lyrically marks the beginning of the protest revolution that is bubbling beneath the totalitarian surface. Paired with ‘Aftermath’ – another ballad of sorts – both are what ‘Follow Me’ was to The 2nd Law, and what ‘Starlight’ and ‘Invincible’ were to Black Holes and Revelations. Breathers, basically.
Although it goes for a whooping 10 minutes and 7 seconds, you learn to bask in the insanity that is ‘The Globalist’ (aka ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on steroids). If the spaghetti-western whistle opening (think ‘Knights of Cydonia’), ominous countdown or twangy alt-country guitar riff turned piano medley doesn’t turn you on, then you never had a switch to begin with! From Morricone to Metallica, drummer Dom Howard flexes his overworked muscles to create some super banging beats.
Titular finale ‘Drones’ is an ambiguous a cappella affair. It’s a gentle, biblical homecoming of sorts – like a final swan song for the “drones” in question – and although it’s difficult to make out the lyrics, it’s a fitting, operatic end.
Drones is going to sound unbelievably cool in a live setting, and you could easily slot it alongside classics like The Who’s Tommy, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Queen’s A Night At The Opera. Concept albums are typically scoffed at as being pretentious or self-indulgent, but Muse have proved the naysayers wrong with a musical marathon that is as fun as it is epically frightening. It’s a film waiting to be made. For this band, I’d gladly become a drone. All hail the mighty Muse!
Drones is out now via Warner Music Australia.