I am very skeptical of bands hinting at the notion that the next installments of their careers are “back to basics”. For Muse, I’m not sure what that meant. Throughout the band’s successful career, there were always hints of electronic elements with that big arena rock feel. The 2nd Law, the band’s fifth album, ventured deep into the rabbit hole, exploring the genre of dub step and even a collaboration with Nero. I reckon that this divided many fans.
Lead singer/guitarist Matthew Bellamy stated his intentions for the band to strip down their song and harken back to the three-piece elements from early incarnations. Their new album, Drones is a conceptual piece that would make the biggest George Orwell fans proud with its surveillance state premise. There’s also an underlying emotional story for our front man in his recent split from his fiancée Kate Hudson. Listening through the entire album, one may believe that this is not a wholesale change, but rather an acknowledgement to Muse’s past with incorporating sounds from future albums.
The album starts off with “Dead Inside”, which seems like a track that could be off 2nd Law, that’s mostly steered by bassist Christopher Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard. “Psycho” is a full-out return to the garage rock sound that has made the band a household name. Bellamy for the most part lets his guitar do the talking with the dirty, foot stomping riff that complements his vocals perfectly. That’s the oxymoron about the album: you have tracks that seem like to be complete opposites of each other. “Mercy” highlights piano and Bellamy’s high vocals. “Reapers” might be one of the best pure rock song in Muse’s long career and includes a breakdown at the end of the track reminiscent of Rage Against The Machine‘s “Freedom”. It’s not just hard rock, but the chorus is something that you can definitely nod your head to. “The Handler” is a slow burner. This is probably the most Absolution-esque that we get on Drones and some of the lyrics may not be so political, but perhaps a little illusion into Bellamy’s previous relationship. “I won’t let you control my feelings anymore/And I will no longer do as I am told/And I am no longer afraid to walk alone.”
The juxtaposition of the album comes to a head particularly with the last two tracks, “The Globalist” and “Drones”. The former is a 10-minute epic, complete with a melancholy build up to the band ultimately busting out into a thrash-like jam. As for the title track, I’m not going to lie – I did a plethora of double takes while listening to it. It was an odd choice to end the album, with monastery-like harmonization. But Muse has a propensity to end their albums with a head-scratcher, so this isn’t far off that precedent.
Now, I wouldn’t say that Drones is a complete turn back the clock album. It’s definitely an album that will quench your thirst for more aggressive songs. There are still remnants of Queen-like elements here. It’s certainly not a bad thing, but some of the sequencing of tracks could throw the listener for a loop. Muse is able to cement their place in modern-day rock and regain the ground they may have lost with 2nd Law.