31 years later, the soundtrack to George Orwell’s 1984 has finally been released.
Released on June 5 (Warner Bros.), Drones is Matt, Dom, and Howie’s first crack at a concept album.
According to frontman Matthew Bellamy:
“To me, ‘Drones’ are metaphorical psychopaths which enable psychopathic behaviour with no recourse…The world is run by Drones utilizing Drones to turn us all into Drones. This album explores the journey of a human, from their abandonment and loss of hope, to their indoctrination by the system to be a human drone, to their eventual defection from their oppressors.”
Are you lost yet? Because I am. Seems like a lot of philosophical, conspiracy-theorist rambling if you ask me.
But I have a burning love for concept albums. So even if this one is hard to go along with, part of appreciating art is going along with it. So let’s go along with this one, because it’s pretty cool.
One of the major issues many outlets have with this album is the “return to roots” mantra behind the whole thing. While this is far from Muse’s garage rock days of the late ’90s and early 2000’s, they meant they were going to strip the instruments down. Judging by the opening track, they got right down to their undies on this one. No dubstep or orchestras, just the reinvention of the guitar-bass-drums attack. Also a touch of piano, strings and JFK to spice things up.
Anyways, bands say they want to return to their roots all the time.
It just doesn’t always go as they say. But that’s no reason to give this album a 4.5/10 (Pitchfork). Drones may be a concept album, but its not a movie. Plot holes shouldn’t be a factor.
Since I like taking things track-by-track, that’s what we’ll do here. But we’ll try to keep it short and sweet, we’ve all got places to be.
1 ‘Dead Inside’
The single that was the top Twitter trend for a full day. This is the “abandonment” part of the concept, becoming dead inside and becoming a drone. Very reminiscent of ‘Madness’.
2. + 3. ‘[Drill Sergeant]’ and ‘Psycho”
The whole “abandon” thing comes back into play here, instead with the concept itself. The whole drill sergeant and flagrant swearing seems a bit over the top, but life’s too short so let’s enjoy it.
The best Muse riff since ‘Bliss’ was written before ‘Bliss’. Go figure. This song would’ve been a smash hit if it wasn’t for the swearing (which is why radio stations won’t play it), because that riff could make a grown man cry.
The instrumental diversity on this album (how they’re used and arranged, not the instruments themselves) shows on ‘Mercy’. And by that I mean there’s a piano intro that continually resonates throughout the song.
I like to say stuff without taking a step back and thinking it through.
This has got to be the best track on this album at least. To be honest, I haven’t even listened to the words that much, that statement is based purely off of instrumental evidence. Some guy at the LA Times that came into the review with an agenda was pissed about the lyric, as he put it, “CIA babe”, whereas the lyric is actually “CIA, babe.” Commas save lives.
6. ‘The Handler’
This song sounds like a song that would be a new track on a Muse greatest hits album. It sounds like them, but it’s nothing special.
7. + 8. ‘[JFK]’ + ‘Defector’
It’s not a conspiracy without the inclusion of JFK.
The lines, “From your inciting” and “Your society” are spiced up with a hint of Queen. An upward crescendo of men singing the end of the line with high yet harmonizing vocals. From soc-IETY. Muse can ALWAYS pull that off.
Have the defectors risen up? Do the police sirens signal a…a… REVOLT???? I think so!
So yes, the concept here is pretty predictable. Shut up and enjoy it. This song is a catchy one though. The boom-boom chorus of, “You’ve got strength, you’ve got soul, you’ve felt pain, you’ve felt love”, is simple yet infectious.
Like the aftermath of the revolt?
But actually the most fitting song for a song that is supposed to be the aftermath of a revolution.
We all thought the hero Matt Bellamy was dead, killed by his former leaders during the revolt. He has become dead inside, and out…but wait! After seconds of a black screen, we see the effect of a human eye blinking a few time over the lens of a camera. We as an audience collectively wonder for a quick second how they do that, but then a shot of a destroyed room reveals that the hero Bellamy has awakened. He gets up, and (instruments start) wanders around the destroyed building in a disoriented state. He reaches a destroyed wall in the building, we see a close up of his shocked face, and the camera zooms out across the entire destroyed landscape while the first line of the song “War is all around” is ominously recited. We as an audience collectively wish the line had been “War never changes”, but the world isn’t perfect. Rebuilding begins.
*John pats self on back, adds item to his collection of movie ideas.*
11. ‘The Globalist’
I’d like to first point out how Spotify made this track only available to premium users. I already had Spotify premium, so it wasn’t an issue, but let’s not pretend they’re aren’t a million other ways to listen to/obtain this song. Encouraging piracy if you ask me.
Clocking in at 10:07, maybe this is another instance of a band trying to create their own ‘Stairway to Heaven’. There sure is a lot going on in this song. A slow beginning, some heavy guitar stuff in the middle, and a piano ballad at the end, followed by some “ah-AH”s. I think it’s message ultimately is that World War III is going to destroy the world, which is probably true.
Of all ways to end this album, a church choir singing the lines “Killed by drones” and ” Now you can kill from the safety of your home, with Drones. Amen”, probably wasn’t how I would’ve done it. Or is the end of this concept album saying that it’s a cycle? See, when you look at things from a different angle, they can actually be artistically sound. Although that last line does confuse me, because I thought this was about human drones, not drone warfare. Fuck.
So the concept here seems a little incomplete. Boring, predictable, call it what you want. I like it, so I’m offering up some points for it.
Most critics are taking points away for this just being “another Muse record”. I’ll be honest, I don’t think this album is going to make too many new fans of Muse, not like Black Holes & Revelations and The 2nd Law did. But for fans of Muse, this is a Muse record. It sounds like Muse, and it sounds a lot like Origins of Symmetry, in my opinion their best album. It’s not perfect, but I’m going to love it like I love all their albums.
The world didn’t ask for politically charged Muse LP, but the world got it. And the world better be happy about it.
The Verdict: 8/10
Standout Tracks: ‘Dead Inside’, ‘Psycho”, ‘Mercy’, ‘Reapers’, ‘Defector’, ‘Revolt’.
Afterthought: Grilling a band for claiming to go “back to basics” and then saying that the album is “too bland” doesn’t make sense to me. Early Muse was simple yet thunderous. So is Drones.