The Ear has been a huge fan of MUSE since hearing and seeing "Hysteria" on FUSE (remember when that music station didn't suck?). Yeah, I might have been a little late to the band, but "better late than never" as they say. Over the next few albums, MUSE found international success, in rather large part to a single being included on a Twilight movie soundtrack. Yeah, let's just forget about that and focus on the great music and thematic elements that made MUSE so great in the first place. Absolution, the album "Hysteria" was part of, was a powerful trip down the rock/concept album highway. An album full of songs about about the coming apocalypse (of various origins) that mankind is always rushing headlong towards while desperately attempting to avoid still ranks as the band's most complete, cohesive, and captivating album, thematically and musically. After hearing the first two singles from their new upcoming rock/concept album though, I'm thinking that the glory days of Absolution are once again returning to one of the most interesting rock bands of the last 20 years.
This isn't to say that Black Holes and Revelations or The 2nd Law weren't great albums, they just weren't the type of album that Absolution was. Absolution was an album in the classic sense of the word. Perhaps one of the last albums recorded in the classic sense of what a rock album used to be. In our byte of sound attention span culture, lengthy, or even complete statements are no longer in vogue, nor as profitable. Drones appears to be a complete statement that flies in the face of everything that defines the modern concept of an album. It's highly political, tinged with the sci-fi feel that many of their previous songs and albums flirted with, and seemingly has the foreboding air of doom, mixed with glimpses of hope, that also characterized their earlier albums.
That's a lot to surmise after a listening to of only of two songs off the upcoming album, but the attuned ear can already hear the greatness that this album is gravid with. Singer/songwriter/bandleader Matt Bellamy has stated that the album itself is, specifically, "a modern metaphor for what it is to lose empathy" and that "I think that through modern technology, and obviously through drone warfare in particular, it’s possible to actually do quite horrific things by remote control, at a great distance, without actually feeling any of the consequences, or even feeling responsible in some way." (NME) "Dead Inside" embodies many of these themes. The lyrics about a man (or woman) who is "dead inside" yet outwardly (and gloriously) "ablaze and alive" and willing to cut your throat (literally and metaphorically) at a moments notice, and without hesitation easily describes the modern world's military industrial complex as a whole or its proliferation of corporate executives as individuals or even a desperately lost forever lover. The song makes sparing but excellent use of the electronica that MUSE has flirted with over their last few albums, but the real basis here is MUSE's love of straight up guitar, drums and bass. Bellamy's guitar playing hasn't sounded this inspired in a while. It's as if the guitars are driving the song rather than filling in the song's empty spaces between the electronic burps and grinds. The above is even more true when applied to "Psycho." The song opens with one hell of a groovy (and slightly grungy) riff. Bellamy is putting the guitar first and the result is a great re-invigoration (if not re-invention) of the kind of guitar grind that made some of MUSE's older songs, like "Stockholm Syndrome" and "Citizen Erased" such great driving guitar tracks. The pounding drums and throbbing bass are all classic MUSE, and the choice to release this song as the first single off the album is a statement. Much of what MUSE (in general ) and Bellamy (in particular) say and write is a statement, and this is a powerfully rock one.
So, yes, we are only two songs into the experience that is MUSE's new album Drones. It sounds like a great one already though. If the rest of the songs on the album are as strong as "Dead Inside" and "Psycho." Then this album is sure to make several of the year's end best of lists.