10 June 2015

Muse - Drones

A concept album following the protagonist's journey from abandonment to indoctrination as a "human drone" and eventual defection?  A return to their earlier sound of just their three instruments?  They have finally lost their collective marbles?  These are just some of the things I have heard about this album from Muse.  Muse are from Teignmouth in Devon, UK; to say they are one of the biggest rock bands from the UK is an understatement.  Whether you agree with that statement is neither here nor there, you cannot decide the size the act.  This is their seventh album and it is (as mentioned before) a concept album about someone who becomes part of the machine and eventually gains freedom via rebellion.  Now the concept album from a mainstream band is something that will have some people running in terror towards the hills in terror, some will welcome it with opened arms; now for me Muse have been a band I have both loved and hated in equal measure, some of the blog crew love them, so detest them - the main thing is that they always get a reaction.  So, what is my reaction to this records?

“Dead Inside” starts the album with a 80’s feeling (thankfully not in the same way as the recent Brandon Flowers album), the bass acts as a synth, the drums have been stolen from Queen (think “Radio Ga Ga”) and the story is set out the vibration of the album; the scene about being empty, sinking into the crowd and losing oneself to oblivion.  It was also the first single released off the album as well.  Musically, there is enough rock going on here and it is really interesting opening; there is only one problem, the lyrics feel as if they have been crushed into the lyrics in places.  It is as if they are trying to get lots of information out at once, but with a limited amount of space; but it is still an interesting opening.  Following on is the segue track called “[Drill Sergeant]”, it is over very quick and leads straight into “Psycho” which tells how the main character is being changed into a killer by the aforementioned drill sergeant and the effects on the life of the person.  Musically it has a slice of Alice Cooper in here, it reminds me a bit about one of his concept albums called ‘The Last Temptation’.  It is a catchy number, rocking when required and letting the spaces breath when required.  Lyrically it feels more rounded than “Dead Inside” and moves the story along on the right direction.  The fourth track is called “Mercy” which has keyboards that remind me of the track called “Starlight” which was released from the ‘Black Holes & Revelations’ album.  It is from the classic rock vein that they have been delving into for years and it does share a similarity to Queen in places, but doesn’t all OTT rock to a certain degree?  Personally I think this song is really good and is one of the tracks of the album as the protagonist is beginning for his soul.

“Reapers” was in danger of being a new version of “Danger Zone” from the Top Gun soundtrack when it first opened, but the solo at the beginning steers it away from that fire-pit.  The feeling of despair that comes from the lyrics and is laced over the guitar as it shreds in forms that should not be known to mere mortals is quiet good; once again, it feels as if some sections of the album has been shoved in to the verses instead of having a bit of careful editing; but again it is a decent number.  Next is “The Handler”, the story is how the protagonist is under the control of his handler who he fears and must obey; I actually like this song a lot – I should not like it at all, but it works.  It is not over the top, reaching for the grandest stage or aiming to dominate; it is added to the texture of this story.  The lyrics keep it simple, the band sound tight as a drum here and it keeps my interest throughout.  Also on repeat listens you hear other things, the guitar effect reveal more, the bass has extra layers and the drumming is very impressive – another great song here.  “[JFK]” is next which is another segue track that goes into ”Defector”, the guitar riff at the beginning grabs your attention straight away as the main character has broken free from his chains and is not on the other side of being controlled.  In it, the protagonist taunts his former keepers and gives a damming report on their current status; now musically, this is Muse doing another song which goes a long way to cement those Queen rumours that dog the band on a regular basis – but as I mentioned before, doesn’t all OTT rock ape Freddie and Co after a while?  Also, who cares when it sounds this good?  Sure, Mr Bellamy does not have the vocals of Sir Mercury, but he still nails this song.  The solos that rain down on the listener are spot on and the song goes a long way to make this album more solid, giving more support to the story as it unfolds.

As this album approaches its endgame, the sound of riots open the next song “Revolt”; a sense of despair and hopeless against the former chains of repressions, whilst he is being told he can move forward with emotions that he did not have before.  It feels a little hammy if I am honest, the music is back to the 80’s OTT I have mentioned before and it does have that concept album cliché of have two separate sections for each voice (despair is slower, offering hope is faster).  It is decent, but not a track for me if I am honest.  “Aftermath” starts with a slow atmospheric opening, the lyrics are tired but hopeful; the protagonist has found someone to love and defend, giving him something to defend (which is all he has known before, even in repression he was defending something) and he no longer feels isolated in the world.  Music is (for the most part) gentle and thoughtful; but like every good ballad-esque number it erupts after a bit with the sound of guitars moving over the listener and match the base of the song comfortably.  Now I have always been a sucker for this type of song and this is no exception, it maybe cheesy again but I still think it is very good – even the Dire Straits beginning (being from the North East of England, that tone is like the sound of home) just melts the heart; it is a great number, cheesy but great.  The penultimate track is called “The Globalist”, it is also the longest track of the album at just over ten minutes in length; the first few minutes are a mournful solo over a military style drum beat, the lyrics show the final decent to a devastating war in which everyone dies (pretty much) and the journey to that moment when the fires fall down from the heavens.  Once those final codes are given to the protagonist, the music picks up and you can hear a countdown going along in the back ground.  It is a prog fest on this number, if you are not into that type of music then it will not be a very entertaining piece; for prog fans, it is almost an interest and brave song.  As the ending of the song shows the main character showing his love the destruction he has brought to the world, showing the end of the world as a gift of freedom.  It could have been shaved by a few minutes, but it ultimately achieves its goals of making a dramatic statement as the world comes to an end. Ending the album is “Drones” and this is the sound of haunting voices mixed together about being killed by drones, your family being killed by drones and how even in your home that you are not safe.  I think that this is a song that would work better at the end of a stage play, but after you have destroyed the world then isn’t the voices of the dead haunting you a fitting way to end this story?

So, how has the cookie crumbled?  Well, it is still a good Muse record that will enchant a lot of people and it is another example that the band are not afraid to take risks even when they are on the cusp of (as the mainstream press will say) of cracking it in America.  This is not the return to basics that the band have previously advertised, their experience that they have acquired since they first came to the attention of the world with the Muse ep from 1998; it also feels a bit too cheesy for my own personal tastes and the music itself would have been better suited if it was actually for a stage play.  It does feel like it has been released in the wrong format, but maybe it can be made into a play in the years to come.  I also think that some of the lyrics have been forced into the songs rather than the organic way round or a slight re-write; but overall the story does flow and suits the music – slightly cheesy.  It is a good release overall, ambitious, cheesy, OTT and brave; it might improve with age but for now it is just a good release with some decent numbers and a good story.

7.5 out of ten –
This is good and well worth a check

Top track - Mercy

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Muse website here

You can also follow their activities on Facebook here

You can stream the album on Spotify here

You can stream the album on Deezer here

You can stream the album on Tidal here

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