Let’s face it, British trio Muse do not put out an album for the cool kids. They are the contemporary equivalent of Canadian band Rush, another power-trio with rock, pop and progressive tendencies who were never hip, but commanded a legion of dedicated fans.
It was hardly a surprise that Drones, their seventh album and their first since 2012’s Grammy-nominated The 2nd Law, went straight to No. 1 on the British charts, their fifth album to do so.
And rightly so – Drones sees Muse abandon subtlety and music trends to go straight for the jugular, with pop-rock anthems designed for the arena.
Album of the week
Unlike The 2nd Law’s dalliance with dubstep and other forms of electronic music, this album is Muse going back to what they do best – big, bombastic tunes with massive guitars, driving drums and hooks galore.
Orchestral and electronic overlays are kept to a minimum and this is one piece of work that strikes through, propelled mainly by Matthew Bellamy’s guitars and ostentatious singing, Dominic Howard’s thunderous rhythms and Christopher Wolstenholme’s sinuous bass lines.
On Reapers, they take 1970s-style hard-rock riffs and anchor them with bluesy and heavy bottom ends, while Defector is the requisite hands-in-the- air energiser.
They have not lost their penchant for prog-rock – 10-minute track The Globalist is multi-part epic with an Ennio Morricone introduction, a pounding mid- section and a grand, piano-rock conclusion.
All is still not right in the world, according to Bellamy, who rails against the decline of empathy and the rising level of detachment in modern warfare.
Like the album title suggests, the subject in his lyrics are all becoming drones, under control by darker forces who seek to strip people of their humanity.
“On the outside, you’re ablaze and alive/But you’re dead inside” he laments on Dead Inside, a driving tune with nods to 1980s-style synth and rock hybrids.
Lyrically, the songs do not break new ground and the concepts and lines can get a little hackneyed – see the barking drill sergeant dialogue copped from cliched Hollywood soldier films in lead single Psycho.
Like in many dystopian sagas, there is a protagonist who eventually breaks free from the corrupt system and incites an uprising in the jubilant and uplifting Revolt.
The resolution in Queen-like ballad Aftermath is a little too schmaltz-y, though, with the hero choosing to bask in the sentimentality of romance over the terror of war (“I’m growing tired of fighting/I’ve been drained and I can’t hide it/But I have strength for you, you’re all that’s real anymore/I am coming home now, I need your comfort”).
Forget about nuances and being on the cutting edge. With Drones, Muse gleefully reclaim their throne as rock’s best guilty pleasure.