Only Muse could turn what it planned as its "back-to-basics" album into a complicated concept album like "Drones" (Warner Bros.)
In fact, "Drones" is so complex, the unpredictable British rockers want to turn it into a musical for London's West End.
That ambition is understandable. Singer-lyricist Matt Bellamy has built a multilayered story of a young, disillusioned guy who enlists in the service and is lured into becoming a drone operator. In the glam-rock stomper "Drones," his job is described by his superior officer as "a Super Drone, and you will kill on my command and I won't be responsible."
The narrator's transformation plays out across the album, with plenty of moments of doubt. "Mercy" is the album's strongest track, not just because Bellamy makes the narrator's predicament sound so emotional, but because the driving rhythms from drummer Dom Howard and bassist Chris Wolstenholme make the singer's falsetto feel even more like Freddie Mercury.
Queen's influence is felt throughout "Drones" and not just when Bellamy reaches for his highest keys, especially in the strutting "Revolt" and "Defector," with their stacked backing vocals a la "Bohemian Rhapsody." However, Muse tackles so many different styles in the name of telling this story effectively that it really does feel like a Broadway musical in the making.
"Reapers" bounces between "Appetite for Destruction"-era metal and wild prog-rock guitar solos. The 10-minute epic "The Globalist" goes through sweet piano ballad moments as well as thrash metal riffs, as the narrator surveys the destruction he has wrought. And there are moments in the power ballad "Aftermath" where it seems like Bellamy is going to bust out Shania Twain's "From This Moment On," which coincidentally was also helmed by producer Mutt Lange.
The album's title track is essentially an a cappella hymn that starts with the chanting of "Killed by drones" and ends with "Amen."
Muse has never shied away from a challenge, and "Drones" certainly raises the stakes lyrically. What makes it truly succeed, though, is how Muse manages to make each song stand on its own.
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THE GRADE A-