Muse: Drones

dronesMuse’s first album came out in 1999, but I didn’t find out about them until two years ago when One Week//One Band covered them. Which is way too long to go without knowing of a band who is totally in my sweet spot. They’re like Queen meets Rick Springfield meets Queensrÿche in a melding of power pop, sci-fi fantasy conspiracy lyrics, and howling falsetto juxtaposed against choral arrangements.

Drones is the band’s seventh album, and I almost didn’t listen to it, given that I figured the band had probably started to suck by now anyway. Well, I’m glad I picked it up, because if this is a band that’s gone on to suck I can’t wait to hear them at their peak.

The titular drones in this concept album are, from what I can tell, people who have been mentally programmed to be killers for the military, which is explained in the three tracks that lead off the album, the middle one if which is the album’s low point. “[Drill Sergeant]” is the aural portion of the brainwashing, with the sergeant yelling at the drone, and it’s just so sophomoric and dumb it’s basically unlistenable. Neither actor can carry out their part and the track is only like 30 seconds long. It shouldn’t have been that hard.

Anyway, there’s some kind of conflict and by the time we get to the second half of the album, our hero is defecting and revolting, and it all lacks too many specifics, but I haven’t looked at the lyrics sheet and really who cares? There’s an emotional journey here that follows the arc of a basic story and you don’t need anything more than that. Everything you need to understand what’s happening to this character is there: exposition, development, conflict, victory. These are two-dimensional characters in a story you’ve heard a dozen times but it doesn’t matter because good god it’s catchy and dancey and fist-raisey and close-your-eyes-dramatically-while-you-sing-along-at-the-climax-y.

And then we’re not quite 75% of the way through the album and we hit the denouement. It’s a good denouement, but at like one-third of the disc’s length it messes with what could have been a more concise finish.

Muse is bold and ambitious. And because of that, they seem to come in for a lot of derision in today’s age of cynicism. And I kinda get that. Matthew Bellamy plays the part of ridiculous adolescent very well, the lyrics are naive and cover material that’s even too worn out for the science fiction genre, and they overreach, so when they miss their target it’s cringeworthy. But without overreaching they wouldn’t be as good as they are, and I’m very willing to accept a few cringes when they hit their mark as often as they do, ‘cuz it’s a damned fine mark.

Rating:
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Mix: “Mercy,” “Reapers,” “The Handler,” “Revolt”
Really Like: “Defector,” “Aftermath”
Like: “Dead Inside,” “Psycho,” “The Globalist,” “Drones”
Meh: “[JFK]”
Hate: “[Drill Sergeant]”
Song Notes: After the jump

  1. Dead Inside – A little too “Sledgehammer” but still great
  2. [Drill Sergeant] – hate everything about it
  3. Psycho – almost really like but the riff is a bit cheesy and ploddy and there’s some left over yelling from the prior track
  4. Mercy –
  5. Reapers
  6. The Handler –
  7. [JFK] – gets cool as it goes, but JFK can’t really pull off the intimidating thing they’re going for here and the beginning is too boring
  8. Deflector –
  9. Revolt –
  10. Aftermath –
  11. The Globalist – the intro is 2:50, but it at least always keeps moving forward. It really picks up six minutes in. For a song as long as it is, it’s excellent.
  12. Drones – like 16th century monastic choral music. kinda.
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