Muse has always been a curious band. On one hand, they were once the poster boys for affected indie pop, co-opting the Radiohead aesthetic to a tee for their own uses. But front man Matt Bellamy is a closeted metal guru, cranking out plodding riffs along with loads of infectious hooks and fist-pumping anthems—all of which have endeared the band to the mainstream masses, transcending the hipsters for far bigger things.
Muse is also revered in prog circles, and has been by cited by some journalists as the latest in a lineage that includes mammoth musical pioneers such as Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and Rush. In reality, Muse is just a very solid, modern pop-rock band with a knack for crafting arena anthems that are both bittersweet and uplifting, with just enough pretentiousness to keep their core fan base intrigued.
Drones sees the band getting back to basics—kind of—with the guitars, bass and drums taking center stage much of the time, as evidenced in the blustery glam stomp of “Dead Inside.” “Psycho” kicks off with a pretty generic hard rock riff, its incessant shuffle groove augmented by Bellamy’s melancholic vocals. (If this was released by a metal band it’s hard to imagine it would be seen as anything particularly special or new, yet for Muse minions, it will undoubtedly be held up as “edgy” and prog.) “Mercy” has hit single written all over it with the requisite Muse trademarks in place—wispy keyboard riff, danceable beats and epic, Queen-style chorus replete with Bellamy’s strained high notes. The album’s high point is the driving “Reapers,” with an opening riff that’s eerily similar to Iron Maiden’s “Flash of the Blade” in its flurry of twisted, pull-off notes.
As a concept album, Drones is fairly easy to predict—Bellamy’s musings on conspiracy theories, indoctrination, uprising are not hard to follow. But it’s the hooks and high production values—courtesy of pop-metal hit-maker Robert John “Mutt” Lange (Def Leppard, AC/DC)—that steal the show, even if there’s not anything particularly new in the overall equation. (Jim Kaz)