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There are concept albums, and then there is Drones.
Muse’s seventh LP treads far beyond the battle lines of the humble concept album, rewriting the ‘rock opera’ genre with an exultant war cry and all-guitars-blazing.
The English trio’s latest offering crafts an emotionally arduous and action-packed narrative that unfolds chronologically across the disc, following in the footsteps of such watershed albums as The Who’s Tommy and Pink Floyd’s The Wall, with the musical bombast of Queen’s A Night At The Opera.
In fact, Queen’s influence can be heard charging throughout the circuitry of Drones. Freddie Mercury lives on in the monstrously stacked vocals of Defector, Revolt and Aftermath, a trio of triumphant arena rock anthems that occur in sequence during the disc’s second act.
Gone are the multi-coloured test tubes of stylistic experimentation that characterised The 2nd Law. Instead of dubstep, electro funk and orchestral arrangements we have Matt Bellamy showcasing the kind of dazzling guitar work that made him something of a six-string icon back in the day, with the explosive solo that rips into the epic metal stormer, Reapers, triggering Eddie Van Halen Eruption-style flashbacks. There’s also a touch of Pink Floyd and Neil Young circa Dead Man about the disc’s post-apocalyptic penultimate track, The Globalist.
There can be no doubt, Muse are back up to their old tricks, using their core three-piece rock sound to relate this enigmatic dystopian parable to the masses.
Speaking of which, Drones unfolds a tale of a hero who is brainwashed by the state to kill without mercy, before being redeemed by love, defecting and revolting, but ultimately failing to save the ones he loves. Although the titular acapela finale track, Drones, does end things on a somewhat ambiguous note (pun totally intended) likely because postmodernism, there seems to be a foreboding message that underpins the whole thing.
Threaded through with spoken word audio, including a famous JFK speech about duplicitous cold war tactics, Drones seems to promote vigilance against those in power, who would seek to use technology to help them keep it, to humanity’s massive detriment.
These kinds of Orwellian themes, which we’ve seen crop up time and again across Muse’s discography, take centre stage here, and there’s a strong sense that everything that came before, from Citizen Erased to The Resistance, was all just a build-up to this one blockbuster musical event.
That said, if you rip away the focus from the narrative and boil the album down to its musical components, what you’re left with is a collection of killer, car-radio-friendly rock tracks. But together, Drones is so much more than just the sum of its parts.
This time around, Muse haven’t just notched up another worthy addition to their album collection. They’ve given fans a reason to care about the album itself as a whole, which in today’s musical climate, is no mean feat.
Watch: Muse – Reapers [Official Lyric Video]