Theatrical Rock with a Paranoid Edge

Review of “Drones” by Muse

Muse by Hannah

Drones is the fairly new 7th studio release by the very popular yet still edgy (in my opinion) alternative rock group called MUSE (all-caps emphasis is my own).  Of course you’ve heard of them by now, and even I had heard of Muse even earlier than I realized – their 2006 hit single “Starlight” was an awesome, emotionally charged song that I actually thought was a new Radiohead release.  I was listening to a lot of Arcade Fire at the time – and since I’m always drawn to intense male vocal performances involving copious vibrato and emotion, I was totally hooked.

I’m not sure I actually realized that this track was Muse (and not Radiohead) until I accidentally attended a huge Muse concert at Madison Square Garden in 2010.  Of course I intentionally attended the show – I just happened to be there for the opening act (Silversun Pickups) and was totally blown away by the fantastic headlining performance by Muse.  I have also had a crush on the bass player ever since…

I am a sentimental cheeseball, so of course my favorite song on the album is the instantly accessible and emotional hit single “Mercy”.  I just love the simple, open piano chords, and the vocal intensity reminds me of Rufus Wainwright, or Richard Ashcroft of the Verve.  This is actually track #4 on the album, so I found myself skipping through the first few songs quite a bit on the ol’ commute to hear “Mercy” again and again.  It also got quite a bit of radio play!

The next track, called “Reapers” – reminds me of the belligerent vocals of a Better Than Ezra song – or something by Beck; it is both a little sassy and soulful here, and I love it!  The energy of the well-executed yet crazy guitar arpeggios carry through to track #5 in a way that is musical theater-like – the vocal quality here is also theatrical, dramatic, and almost electronic in style.

A fun song you might know from the radio is “Dead Inside” – it feels eerie and zombie-ish, with lyrics like ”your skin feels warm to caress – I see magic in your eyes” that conjure mental images of a possible music video not unlike Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” event.  For contrast, the song I like the least is the “Drill Sergeant” track. Basically this could be a sample from Full Metal Jacket, that just puts me in a depressed and paranoid mood.

As you listen to the album, you’ll observe that my paranoid mood is actually in line with the theme of this album.  You can tell from the title Drones, that this album is projecting a contemporary political, and anti-military type of vibe.  I understand the band’s attempt to be relevant and real – but again this is too depressing for my morning drive.  I try to focus on the musical aspects of each song, instead of just the lyrics or any anti-establishment message.

Each song has amazing drums, great basslines, hard heavy guitars, and expressive (sometimes crazy) vocals – the songs are rarely upbeat poppy hit singles (with the exception of “Mercy” and the thematically appropriate anthem “Revolt”), so they give off a darker, more serious twinge that hints at something deeper beneath.  Matt Bellamy often sounds like Mika or Freddy Mercury, and there are always plenty of well-positioned backing vocals for a dramatic chorus effect.

Another song I’m not sure I enjoy is “the Globalist” – towards the end of the album, this is another statement piece that includes some 1940s-esque whistling samples that give a creepy, haunting, vintage feel.  Running at over 10 minutes, I’m not sure what this track is supposed to be – sounds like a cowboy-inspired soundtrack from either a classic movie or something by Quentin Tarantino.  Either way it is dramatic and very sad to me.

The album closes with “Drones”, a short, tight, renaissance-inspired acapella piece that sounds like the sacred pieces commissioned for and sung in the holy cathedrals of Europe.  All of the cadences and phrasing are you would expect from a well-rehearsed all-male chorus – except I believe this piece is executed exclusively by Bellamy himself.  This took me back to my chamber choir days from high school – except that instead of singing music for the high mass, Bellamy is singing about our modern, remote, unfeeling approach towards warfare and death. The lyrics reference the hit single again when they inquire- “can you feel anything?  Are you dead inside?”

And with that, the operatic arch of this album is complete.  Even with all of the gritty, sharp, provocative, uncomfortable and dystopian futuristic elements – I really enjoyed this release.  I’ll mention Freddy Mercury again, because the theatrical, high-drama style is so similar – at times you’ll think you’re listening to an Andrew Lloyd Weber rock opera.  Another comparable vocalist would be Brandon Flowers from the Killers.

If you like this kind of energy, combined with excellent production quality, and the near-flawless execution of hard-hitting, edgy rock songs with a crisp, contemporary challenging message – you’ll appreciate this album and you should definitely check out the other releases by Muse.  Happy New Year!

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play: DRONES by Muse

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon: DRONES CD by Muse

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