Saturday, 6 June 2015

DRONES Album Review

Check it out... if you appreciate Muse at their least challenging stylistically, Drones being an album which explores previously detailed instrumental concepts, with relative success

Skip it... if conventional pop-rock disagrees with your tastes, this latest offering from Muse one of their most predictable and conventional, both in regards to instrumentation and lyrical content

"Even in its shining beacons of prosperity and prowess, one can acknowledge trepidation and conventionality bursting at the seams, threatening to overwhelm."

Layered vocals, yearning for aid, announce the arrival of British rock group Muse's seventh studio album; Drones. Immediately distressing, bombastic; appropriately engaging. It sets a gleefully vibrant, energetic and lively dynamic for the rest of the record to follow. Much of the opening track, 'Dead Inside', adheres to these qualities, and despite its repetition, remains full of vivacious and understated aggression. It's an exciting track for old-school fans of the band, as this initial offering hearkens back to their stylistic propensities of old much more accurately than their two prior releases, The Resistance and The 2nd Law. And whilst these albums weren't necessarily bad per se, for many, they neither reached expectations set by the band's earliest days, nor delivered enough modern rock euphoria to warrant the experimentation that was indulged within during their lengths. That said, this individual thinks highly of both, namely The Resistance; a record which offers all variety of material, from Queen-inspired alternative rock ballads (the outstanding 'United States of Eurasia') to pulsating and rigorous grunge efforts which prove reminiscent of their 2001 contribution, Origin of Symmetry (the brutal 'Unnatural Selection'). Drones immediately announces its inherent hostility and it looks to be a return to old form, even if it is somewhat dulled in ferocity by a partially tedious and simplistic beat. An amalgamation of calculated electronic and bass synthesis alongside vocal dexterity, 'Dead Inside' sets the bar high. 

And what is most fortunate is that the following track on the album, 'Psycho' (not including the absolutely atrocious spoken cue, '[Drill Sergeant]'), remains as optimistic in quality. Again, the percussive elements prove relatively conventional, and the primary guitar riff utilized throughout is nothing short of predictable, but the general angsty punch that much of The 2nd Law lacked in is provided here. The verses palpitate with force and detriment, and lead singer Matt Bellamy handles the vocal component with an uncharacteristic degree of savagery. The lyrical content is as blatant as one expects with an album title like that of Drones, but it's an undoubtedly satisfying track, that is immediately recognisable as Muse. Such gleeful passion is poured into the other two heavy rock tracks on the album, 'Reapers' and 'The Handler', the two standouts on the work, both of whom possess creativity, motivation and a sliver of lyrical subtlety (which most of the duration lacks). The latter cue in particular, 'The Handler', is where the album finds its trump card; the meticulous and driving percussion beat from drummer Dominic Howard compels the bass and guitar lines to live up to expectations, and they do. Chris Wolstenholmes' bass work is the strongest its ever been, and his forceful rhythmic riffs transform what could have once been pop-rock into fully fledged rock barbarity. This is the Muse I saw glimpses of within 'Supremacy', 'Panic Station' and 'Survival', only here, unrestrained and bountiful, they are revealed to us in full.  

Muse do not fully abandon their experimental inclinations with Drones, 'Aftermath', 'The Globalist' and the titular 'Drones' all haunting inductions into the Muse "transcending their own genre" category. The former track, a slow, trickling, romantic serenade, filled with heart and pain, is aptly harrowing. As the protagonist of the story ends his battle, as hinted towards by the title, he reflects on the destruction that surrounds him, and the motivation that keeps him afloat. The fluent ostinato that permeates the duration of the nearly six minute long piece is as affecting as it is tireless. Despite its inherently orthodox compositional qualities, it remains a beautiful work, comprised of emotion and warmth. 'The Globalist' is the standout of this finale, despite its undeniably irritating tonal alteration in the latter third of the ten minute length. Prior to that point in time, the track builds over the course of six and a half minutes to provide one of the most bombastic, insane, ingenious, varied and shocking experiences ever provoked whilst listening to a Muse record. The first few minutes possess the same rain effects heard during the opening to Zimmer's Interstellar, which allow one to effortlessly flow from the serenity of 'Aftermath' to the mysterious atmosphere of this work. The rich ambiance of the opening to 'Knights of Cydonia' pervades the cue, and Howard's Western-styled snare beat resonates immediately. The next few minutes feature Bellamy calmly performing the most impressive lyrical content in the album, and an eventual tempo change that indicates the beginning of the end; absolutely treacherous, assertive, bold and defiant riffs bellow forth, and one is sent into pure jubilance. The finale of the piece, comparable to The 2nd Law's 'Explorers', feels like an unnecessary change of pace (the track could have been split into two), and whilst being of impeccable quality, remains the primary detractor for the cue. 

Unfortunately, despite numerous positives, the album is littered with laziness that hold the release back from achieving a truly great score. 'Mercy' comes after 'Psycho' and instills the first feelings of dread; the 'Starlight'-esque piano melody too bouncy in style, and the vocals progressing with a pop star-like artificiality. It just doesn't sound like Muse. Even the chorus, which is fortunately full of grunt, is besmirched with a guitar riff that screams formulaic. It was my least favourite single leading up to the album release, and it remains one of the least satisfying tracks on offer within context. But 'Mercy' is not nearly as loathe-able in quality as the hideous and detestable 'Revolt'; a song which may very well be the worst composition Muse has ever released. The chord progression is, funnily enough, similar to that of any number of sitcom themes. As one Redditor has pointed out, it feels as if it belongs in an 80s movie montage sequence, as the hero is being trained for his most pivotal fight in the film. At the very least, the various elements in the track are well-mixed, the percussion in particular receiving a suitable quantity of attention. That doesn't change the fact that 'Revolt' is a sickeningly disastrous track that shall be referred to as the butt of all Muse jokes in the future, replacing 'Guiding Light' in this area. Isn't that a distasteful thought? 

The final single for the release, 'Defector', is the most disappointing track of all. For those who found 'United States of Eurasia' cheesy, cover your noses; the Queen-isms are here in great abundance, and they are less restrained, refined and dazzling as they were in that aforementioned song. The vocal spikes, with Bellamy announcing that he is free from the antagonist's society, are as forced as they are cringe-worthy. The only things worthy of considerable acclaim are, once again, the mixing of the percussion, as well as the bass, both of whom are loud and, to an extent, enjoyable, in a guilty-pleasure kind of way. 'Defector' is the less accomplished 'The Handler', lacking the brute aggression and the infectious quality. The album ends with the previously noted 'Drones', which captures the gloomy atmosphere of Pink Floyd at their strangest. The piece contains no instrumentation, part vocals, provided by the band members, and it is mesmerising to say the least. It's a positively inventive, yet somewhat divisive ending to a rather mixed album.

"Mixed" best describes the entirety of Drones. Even in its shining beacons of prosperity and prowess, one can acknowledge trepidation and conventionality bursting at the seams, threatening to overwhelm. Muse fans of old will find both much to appreciate and a great deal to condemn, whilst those unfamiliar to the band's compositions may accept this work with open arms. The pop-rock influence, initially prevalent within 'Big Freeze', 'Follow Me' and 'Panic Station' on The 2nd Law, is beefed up here, often to unsatisfactory results. Sometimes, the band sounds completely devoid of any of the personality they usually possess. Yet all the same; there are large portions of bravado and sentimental-connection; Bellamy, Wolstenholme and Howard contributing a number of future classics to their discography. 'Reapers', 'The Handler' and 'The Globalist' are sure to be revered by the mass populace, and rightfully so, the creativity on show inspiring. Despite its great deal of concerns and issues, Drones is ultimately adequate, impressive rock from one of the masters. Disappointing yet certainly redeemable. You can purchase Drones on Amazon or iTunes, here and here.



Additional notes about release: the iTunes copy comes with a digital booklet.

Track Listing

1.Dead Inside4:22
2.[Drill Sergeant]0:21
6.The Handler4:33
11.The Globalist10:07
Total Album Time:52:40