Muse – “Drones”

Grade: D+

Key Track: “Reapers”

When you’re a band that’s been making the same album over and over again for 15 years, you should know better than to call it “Drones.” I won’t even touch the easy joke, nor will I say anything about the art-rocity on the cover. Let’s just not even spend time there.

Muse makes music for teenagers. I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but they do. I was 14 when “Absolution” came out, and it rocked my world for a while. “Drones” takes a predictable anti-war stance, and man, if this had come out a decade ago, I would’ve fallen in love with it like it was any girl I talked to. Certain songs from “Drones” have Hot Topic-primed lyrics, down to a concept that’s confusing and inconsistent.

“Drones” supposedly follows someone as they join a military and become a human drone, or something Muse-y like that. It’s not always coherent, and it leads to very Muse-y songs like “Defector,” that has a chorus of “I’m free from society / You can’t control me,” or “Revolt,” which is pretty self-explanatory. The album’s second track is an interlude, of a drill sergeant prepping a soldier to be a “killing machine,” which is pretty much the equivalent to Kevin James starring in “Apocalypse Now.”

Musically, Muse looked to get back to basics on “Drones.” It doesn’t always work, but they have stripped themselves down a bit compared to the past few albums. Given that “The 2nd Law” had a literal dubstep song, hearing just the guitar-bass-piano-drums combo of the “Origin of Symmetry” days is a relief. It’s not enough – the strength of Muse’s early albums lies in their restlessness, as they clearly had ambitions that they couldn’t yet meet. But it is still an improvement. “Reapers” is the closest to classic Muse (note: to me classic Muse is “Newborn”). 10+ minute penultimate track “The Globalist” also hits old Muse for a while, before falling into terrible ballad territory (and giving way to the closer, “Drones,” which is Matt Bellamy a capella layered over himself – yikes).

Compared to the slough they’ve been slinging at us for a few years, “Drones” isn’t so bad. But there’s a second interlude on the album that’s part of a speech from JFK and it’s just like, come on guys. You’re British. This album is about drones. None of it makes any sense. Muse revel in their corniness, and it affects their songwriting. There’s some generally good Muse songs on this album, but they’re too few and far between to make you think they’re a band worth paying attention to again. 15 year-olds are probably going to pick this album up, and it might inspire them – that’s good. “Absolution” inspired me. It made me more political, and more musical. But it also advanced me past self-serving bands like Muse. Ten years from now, when Muse hits 31 years as a band, the kids that picked up “Drones” are going to smirk at themselves, at how far they’ve come since those teenage days.

-By Andrew McNally