Drones review by Muse

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  • Released: Jun 5, 2015
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 7.7 Good
  • Users' score: 7.1 (145 votes)
Muse: Drones
9

Sound — 8
Welcome to "Drones," soldier. This is album number seven for Muse, who are, perhaps, one of the more notable "arena" bands and also perhaps, with one of the biggest albums of the year.

I'll start off by saying, my experience with Muse has been admittedly "little to none," but my experience with who they influence is something I've only just noticed (on a side note, check out "The Congregation" by Leprous and you'll hear what I mean).

As such, I like to think I'm approaching this in the right way, as someone who's a big fan of things that challenge the norm and as someone who'd give the mainstream a chance if it actually had anything good to offer. I think "Drones" does that. But what is it actually like?

So, we're starting off with "Dead Inside," an unabashed electro-rock piece that brings the '80s synth cheese like it's actually in fashion (begs the question, was cheese ever in fashion?). Note that this is also one of the many singles from this album and given how it kind of drops its rather punctuated, minimalist, groovy drive around the midway mark for what is undeniably the dreaded 4-chord progression, it's no surprise they'd want to get the flak out of the way. Not to say it's terrible, but I'm beginning to see why many might be initially turned off by this record.

However, this is not, in any way, what the album as a whole sounds like. I'm not ultra familiar with Muse's early 2000's work, but what I've heard indicates that the next track, "Psycho," would fit on something like "Origin of Symmetry" if it had a production overhaul: everything's based on this hilariously catchy riff that hits the right grooves with the precision you'd have come to expect from a veteran touring band. It's such a shift from "Dead Inside" that you'd think you were listening to a different album entirely.

Then you run into "Mercy," undoubtedly the weakest song on the album. Unashamedly cringe inducing in its cheese and style, and not something I'd recommend. Hang on, third single in a row? Whatcha playing me for, Muse? Don't think I have the patience for the rest of your album?

If anything, this pattern shows how the band is influenced by their fan base. All that the first 6 songs basically want to showcase is pretty much everything the band has done or can do in a painfully short amount of time. Really, they just want to throw singles at a wall and see which ones will stick. I'll tell you which one does for me, and that's "Reapers." People might call it garish or bombastic or "too guitar driven" (as if that's ever a bad thing), but I say this is probably one of the strongest songs Muse has written, speaking as a non-Muse-fan. It has what I can only describe as the heaviest breakdown you've heard all year. It's the only popular song I've heard in what feels like forever that has actual guitar leads (really tasty Malmsteen-esque tapping). It's certainly my most favourite track on the album. I'd say that the other singles, apart from perhaps "Psycho," are some of the weaker parts of the album and you'd be doing yourself a pleasure by giving the second half a chance.

I could honestly ramble on about what's actually great in this album, like the super '70s prog bassline of semi-ballad "Aftermath" and the really powerful, dropped-tuned build up of classically-respectful ten minute wonder "The Globalist," but that might be spoiling it. Their general theme of "pop-prog" is incredibly engaging, and I'm pretty much sold.

Production/mix wise... I mean, I get that if you've already done the electronic/influence thing (i.e. "The 2nd Law") you kind of need a bit of consistency, but I think it pervades a bit much on "Drones." Most notable in the overall drum sound, which is very "modeled" sounding, it's not that in itself which is the bad part, it's that you've got this incredibly rock driven album with a great human feel to it but then suddenly this rather at-odds, electronic-ish drum sound starts bursting through the mix. It's just something that doesn't quite work, given the genre. However, that's actually my only real gripe. The production is just overall fantastic, where pretty much everything fits in and blends comfortably with each other.

Lyrics — 7
A lot of people are at odds with Muse entirely for Mat Bellamy's particular voice. Obviously, if that's what dissuaded you previously, then you're probably not going to enjoy this album much. I, for one, think he has a certain Freddie Mercury-esque flair and think that the actual Queen vibe of the vocals is not a bad thing. As ever, Bellamy delivers his impassioned, theatrical performance that is so demanded by their instrumentals (also, the Shining (NOR) style distorted vocals on certain tracks are frickin' great). I find little fault in the performance, aside from whatever possible, personal tonal preference could arise.

Lyrically, this is one of the more notable things about this album, and probably the biggest clash I have with it. The drone concept is represented both as the (somewhat) topical flying machines of death and as an allegory for anyone who is basically a part of the governmental system (i.e. pretty much everyone, right?). The main fault here is that this narrative concept is not portrayed with any kind of "hard-hitting" power through the lyrical themes. By all means, do listen to "21st Century Schizoid Man" for some actual mastery in this area.

I'd like to bring up a Tom Waits track as an example, "Hell Broke Luce." It tells of an army officer who could not deal with the horrors of war after coming home and Waits' retelling, revitalizing and respect for the reality-based story. I feel as though "Drones" is portrayed in the same way as a particularly blustery musical or as a concept two stoned guys came up with and it got way out of hand ("hey, dude... what if... what if drones, can also mean us..." "That's deep, dude"). Not to belittle the vocalist's other talents, but I think this subject was approached with some sort of flippancy in "Drones," like it was just something to get people talking rather than a fully immersive concept.

Overall Impression — 8
Well, overall, this album is pretty strong, possibly their strongest? Not sure, but certainly the most inclusive. I can say that don't be too lead on by the singles, give the stronger second half a chance. I appreciate that Muse are at a position where they can actually do very popular music and still be able to include the generally "un-pop" things that the mainstream is lacking a fair bit of.

Also, if you know you don't like Muse, you probably still won't like Muse.

Songs to look out for: "Reapers," "The Handler," "Defector," "The Globalist."

40 comments sorted by best / new / date

    fakhrithejack
    Overall, i think it's a good album. But the lyrics fail to impress me, they're just beyond cliche. I got the feeling that when Matt gets too focused with the central theme of the album (like drones and 2nd law), he tends to lower the overall quality of the album. It's more that he tried too hard to write the lyrics just so that it'd fit the theme, but that's what makes the negative side of of the album.
    farkasvolgyikol
    Similar thoughts. The Handler and The Globalist have only solid lyrics. The others are just meh for me. With solid lyrics it would be a great album, but this way Drones is "just" good. 8/10
    box_of_trix
    You start off by saying that your experience of Muse has been' little to none,' yet you conclude by stating that this is questionably one of their best albums. Frankly, its all very average stuff when compared to Black Holes, Absolution, Origin and Showbiz; notice how I omit their later offerings.
    Radiohead293
    I dunno man, Muse just makes me feel flat and empty these days; whereas their first 4 albums rocked my socks off.
    RockingCookie
    Supposedly this is an album for the masses, which is not nescesarilly a bad thing. (it propably is, if you're an old school fan) But i've been a fan since The Resistance, and i very much enjoy this album. Lots of strong and catchy songs. Lyrically i totally agree with most of you guys, it's not their best, but the overall sound is great. It has everything, the raw rock guitars, the 80's electronics and the symphonies. And most of all, I can't wait to hear lots of these songs live!
    BleachedNirvana
    The lyrics have every cliche and are pretty bad, there are some good parts but too much bad and too unintentionally funny to actually be good. "Revolt" sounds like it could be from Pablo Honey and other parts essentially sound like watered down Radiohead. Album art is pretty shitty and hilarious as well. The Goverment!!! It's bad!!! The drones!!!! They're coming for us!!! Show me your war face!!!!! AAAAAHHHHH!!!! hhh!h!!
    Wiencon
    Exactly what I said here 2 weeks ago and got downvoted to the ground :d
    FlyingPirahna
    I think at this point, the soul of Muse is completely gone. They're just rewriting the same songs and switching up the bells and whistles, and this album even lacks the one or two great songs that they have on every album. It's just one flat, uninspired plateau and their most grandiose and overblown tendencies are the only thing left in their music at this point. It's self-parody at best, and self-consuming at worst.
    Kueller917
    Poor lyrics, their take on the topic was underwhelming and I wasn't even expecting much to begin with. Some decent works and moments but overall leaves me a bit cold like The Resistance did (which is my least favorite of theirs). The Handler though is one of my favorite songs they've written in years.
    bowchickawowwow
    I thought this album was a very strong effort by them. I can only describe it as a mixture of Rage Against the Machine, Queen and Pink Floyd(Straight after the heavy riffage in The Globalist, the piano chord progression vaguely sounds to me like Brain Damage off of Dark Side of the Moon. Maybe it's just me.) It took probably 2-3 times of listening to Revolt for me to sorta get into it but it's very well one of their weakest songs imo. Defector and Aftermath definitely are my favorite Muse pieces I've heard them make. Overall I'd say this is in my top 3 favorite Muse albums behind OoS and Absolution and I can't wait to hear these songs preformed live! Edit: Woops, I didn't mean to post this as a reply! Damn phone glitching on me.
    swagisnotreal
    For me, the first third of the album is the weakest part. I still like the songs, but they're just okay. Once it gets to Reapers, though, the rest of the album is fantastic. I've heard a lot of critizism towards the last third, but I think the last three songs are actually quite good. The lyrics, yes, aren't that great, but Muse never really had mind blowing lyrics in the first place ("Stretch it like a birth squeeze." New Born, Origin of Symmetry). It's not their best album, but I still think it's a fantastic rock record.
    friendlyneighbo
    this album falls flat for me, lyrically theres nothing special, musically theres a couple songs that are catchy or well done such as Reapers and Dead Inside, but other from that a lot of the lyrics seem forced and are painfully average. There werent any songs that really stood out as with past albums, whereas with Drones a lot of the songs sound either very generic or almost the same in their riffs
    voodooenglish
    I personally found the first half of the album to be enjoyable with "The Handler" being my favourite of the lot but I think everything takes a weak turn after that point. Don't even get me started on revolt which could have quite easily have been written by taylor swift but she would have probably done a lot more with it
    carriep63
    Seriously, what happened with Revolt? It really threw me, it's like I was listening to a different album. It's awful. The Handler is easily my favorite song on the album, and I think it's even up there in the top 10 of my all time favorite Muse songs (for now.)
    chamiller005
    This album is just loaded with cliches, and the music is really only exciting in short spaces. Pretty disappointing, but I guess when you push the arena rock style this hard its easy to cross the line from awesome and bombastic into overwrought and cheap.
    zeroceid
    Oh and that cover art - every other album has amazing art, yet this is so gimmicky that it hurts. Makes me really miss Storm Thorgerson
    BJisaretard
    Come on, kids...Drones is FREAKING AMAZING "Leave me alone I must disassociate from you"
    rocklee1431
    I don't see why someone who knows virtually nothing about Muse would write this review, but whatever. I'm obviously biased since I'm a huge fan, but I really like the album. I guess it all comes down to your taste in music because I don't see how a website of guitarists wouldn't enjoy this album.
    Baby Joel
    I'd rather have someone who doesn't know them. Less biased review. They don't rate the album based on previous successes or failures.
    rocklee1431
    Well, having familiarity with a band at least gives you some context to what you're reviewing. I don't want someone who will blindly give it a ten, but there should be a middle ground.
    EpiExplorer
    I know virtually nothing about a lot of things, but should that really stop me from conveying my experience of it? I do my research, always, but often times I find being an outright fan of something is more a detriment to analysis than a plus.
    Wiencon
    Reapers is good, rest is pretty average. I never was fan of Muse and just hate Bellamy's vocal manners, musically I like their style very much, but when Matt opens his mouth all magic is gone. 6/10 from me.
    zeroceid
    I found this album to be very disappointing. It felt like they couldn't be bothered, so just chucked in a load of previous ideas to produce an album with only four songs of any merit, 'Dead Inside', 'Reapers', 'The Globalist' and 'Aftermath'. I wrote a full review on my own site as I could rant about this album for weeks: https://rockatlantic.wordpress.com/2015/...
    booshki
    it's better than the 2nd law, but that's not saying much. i'd give it a 5.5/10
    mlwry
    The album is a 4/10 at most. Really, really bad cock-rock album. Pitchfork's review was spot on.
    BJisaretard
    Any human that uses the words "cock-rock" probably has way more chromosomes than most of us.
    Kueller917
    Drowned In Sound gave it a similar rating but I thought they did a lot better at explaining than Pitchfork.
    thenextkirk92
    If I ignore the lyrics I find the instrumentals really good. I just don't think Matt Bellamy understands a concept album. It's almost like he wrote lyrics for a song then used synonyms of the same words in others. I'd say a 7. Other than revolt all the songs are well done, just wish the lyrics could back it up.
    Muser00
    Great Album!!! I love the mix of prog rock and electric rock !!! The songs sound great and the concept is very interesting and contemporary!! What a wonderful album!
    Arthurman
    Muse? No thanks ...
    Wiencon
    At least be open minded, I also am not fan of Muse, but I listened their every album and will wait for future releases, maybe some day I will enjoy them
    spiff-corgi
    I went from someone who torrented 2nd Law and intended to torrent this to someone who just bought the CD. I think this is a genuinely good album. Certainly the best they've done for a long time, albeit the lyrics are absolutely painful for a lot of it.
    rockyrhoads13
    I really like your review. I think it was spot on but…. "really tasty Malmsteen-esque tapping". Not that i'm an Yngwie expert but, while he uses tapping sometime, i've never considered him a "tapper". I would have said Van Halen-esque a la hot for teacher. All and all good review and I enjoy the album.
    Chickendirt
    Do not get the hype around Reapers, it's a badly written song with great instrumentation. The Handler is amazing though
    ZPinkZeppelinS
    Wait for the "Muse fans" to tell us that they haven't made a good album since Showbiz and Origin. Side note: I do believe this is their strongest effort.
    ggk
    They may be slightly out of my range but they are damn good