Distinct Message, Musical Diversity
Since Muse’s formation in the 1990s, the group has broadcast an array of songs that captivate audiences, some with sounds redolent of ’70s and ’80s rock, others that embrace modern electronic tactics. Drones is no exception to the band’s diversity. Each song brings a unique element to the album, whose overarching theme is a commentary against modern warfare—hence the name “Drones” for both album and one of its songs—but more powerful than the linguistic signification of each track is the musicianship and harmonization present throughout the whole album. Matthew Bellamy, lead vocalist and guitarist, exemplifies with customary mastery vocals ranging from low whispers, to powerful belting, to falsetto embellishments. He matches this vocal variety with guitar work that spans from slow, soulful progressions (really, his work extolls David Gilmore at points) to riffs that scream rock and roll. One can listen to the whole album without getting the sense that it is redundant, even though its message against modern warfare is pervasive, for the twelve tracks on Drones showcase Muse’s versatility in a way that can appeal to a variety of audiences.
“Psycho,” one of the album’s particularly catchy songs, opens with beautiful vocal harmonies, and then it builds its message on a previous track,“Drill Sergeant.” The latter isn’t a song, but rather a dialogue between a drill sergeant and a soldier who is being trained into submission. “Psycho” takes this exchange to a new level where the soldier not only pledges obedience to his sergeant but actually proclaims himself a psycho-killer. The song portrays war crimes as something the army values and takes pride in; it also incorporates foul language, perhaps to strengthen its point. This aspect may be controversial to some listeners who are accustomed to enjoying Muse without exposure to expletives, but this element probably does create a more accurate depiction of interaction between soldiers and sergeants. Language aside, the message of the song is clear, associating modern military practices with criminal atrocities.
The very next track, “Mercy,” offers a notable contrast to “Psycho,” for its chords are optimistic and hopeful, while the lyrics implore mercy from the “powers that be.” The song is beautiful, deviating from the hard-rock appeal of its predecessor with increased emphasis on uplifting keyboard and percussion work, as well as a magical touch of falsetto from Bellamy.
The album again shifts course with “Reapers,” a song that seems to complete a story arching from the training of psycho-killers, to a plea for mercy from the victim’s perspective, to allusions to destruction. This track revs up the tempo with distinctly electro components, reminiscent of the band’s past work. Bellamy’s lyrics make distinct references to drone warfare before breaking into a fairly upbeat instrumental, a move that is interesting, since the song’s dark message seemingly contradicts the positive sound-effects of its instrumentation. Unity is reestablished as the song concludes, with chaotic alarms accompanying heavy drumming and guitar chords.
The themes of the song are more diverse than one hard-hitting message against warcrimes, however. There are also elements of empowerment (noticeably in the song, “Revolt”), inspiring listeners with the assurances, “You’ve got strength, you’ve got soul,” “You can grow,” and “You can revolt.” In this respect, Muse does not merely critique the current state of affairs, but actually calls for change and encourages people to go against the flow of oppressive forces.
Each component of the story of Drones is accompanied by distinct, unique musical styles and techniques. As the album concludes, listeners discover the story’s “Aftermath” in a soulful ballad; “The Globalist” begins with melancholic whistling and then grows unexpectedly into the band’s longest song ever recorded, accompanied by the unique implementation of gorgeous slide guitar; and “Drones” consists primarily of choir-like harmonies that are absolutely beautiful. Considering the eery rock and electro sounds of much of Muse’s past work, it is clear the group unfurled some truly innovative musical strategies, expanding its repertoire under the influence of a variety of artists and genres (Ennio Morricone has been tossed around as an example) to make the final pieces of Drones among the band’s most unique. As a whole, Drones is well worth listening to, if only for its display of fluency among musical styles.