Being a band full of contrarians has done wonders for Muse’s longevity and success. In fact, the U.K. rock trio’s masterful use of contrasting sonics—classical orchestration clashing with futuristic electronic textures, and Matt Bellamy’s gorgeous falsetto laid atop jagged metallic guitars—has helped the band survive both passing musical fads and its own moments of self-(over)indulgence.
Wisely, seventh album Drones tones down the extended symphonic drama and eschews meandering arrangements, elements that dragged down both 2009’s The Resistance and 2012’s The 2nd Law. Instead, Muse re-embraces its love of guitars. “Psycho” is a dead ringer for Marilyn Manson’s razor-burned electro-sleaze circa “The Beautiful People.” “Mercy” nods to the bubbling-over sound effects popular on 2001’s Origin of Symmetry. “Dead Inside” is an industrial/new wave hybrid reminiscent of Pretty Hate Machine-era Nine Inch Nails. “Reapers” and “The Handler” are scuzzy hard-rockers with roots in metal’s furious riffage. And the stacked harmonies and flashy guitar squalls of during “Defector” feel Queen-like flamboyant.
Thematically, Muse focuses its criticism of oppressive regimes and dystopian societies into a loose concept album—about fighting against these formidable forces; condemning invasive surveillance and government brainwashing; and finding a romantic and ideological ally within this cultural and moral apocalypse. The lyrics can be cartoonish (“Home, it’s becoming a killing field/There’s a crosshair locked on my heart”), but also dead serious when depicting violence (e.g., “Psycho:” “I’ll turn you into a super drone (super drone)/And you will kill on my command”) and anti-authority messaging (“Defector:” “Your blood is blue and your mind is turned green/And your belly is all yellow”).
On Drones, Muse wrangles its divergent interests into something aggressive, cohesive and surprisingly meaningful.