Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records

With 20 years and running under their belt, Muse have risen to be one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Their recent musical efforts have been experimental with orchestral sound in 2009’ s “The Resistance” and more of an electronic influence in 2012’s “The 2nd Law.” Now in 2015, Muse have gone back to a stripped down approach as a more barebones three-piece rock band in their seventh album, “Drones.” With that said, “Drones“ is a solid, riff-heavy effort that travels through political themes of conspiracies, revolts and brainwashed self-titled “Drones.” If that’s off-putting, worry not, because this is all normal for a band like Muse who have long conveyed similar odd themes in their music.

The album starts with a radically different song than the rest, and something that would have been more in line with their 2012 effort “The 2nd Law.” “Dead Inside” is a bass heavy, ‘80s influenced, electronic pop opener that might sound unusual. As one of their lead singles, it’s definitely a radio-friendly highlight. Lead singer Matt Bellamy sings with soul in one of the most impressive songs. Bellamy weaves through lyrics of love and a person who can “bring [him] back to life” but who causes him to essentially be “dead inside.”

Something that admittedly plagues the album are some of the cheesy and maybe even cringe-worthy lyrics. “Psycho,” a very barebones rock guitar riff track has lyrics that are cut between dialogue of a drill sergeant essentially trying to make someone “psycho” and that their “ass belongs to [them] now.” The song’s instrumentation makes it great for live performances, but its cheesy lyrics will fall deaf to a regular listening. “Aftermath,” Muse’s take on love ballads, also suffers a similar fate. But in the same vein as “Psycho,” the instrumentation is well done. “Defector,” a Queen-inspired song that has Bellamy wailing through themes of freedom possesses the same problems.

“Reapers” is undoubtedly one of best track on “Drones” and one that I think is the band’s best in years. The song pumps you up with energetic drumming which leads into Bellamy’s insane hammer-on guitar intro. “Reapers” showcases the guitar skills Bellamy is known for and is a song that stays true to their more stripped down rock approach. Heavy AC/DC-like guitar riffs and falsetto vocals take over the choruses, improvised guitar solos weave through the middle and an apocalyptic breakdown ends the song, making it a satisfying listen to longtime fans and newcomers alike.The next track “The Handler” is another stellar listen that falls into the same category, albeit a little bit more darker in instrumentation and lyrics and is one that harkens back to Muse’s earlier work.

The album is home to an ambitious 10 minute epic, “The Globalist,” which goes through topics such as love, world domination and emptiness. The song starts off with a western blues vibe, only to give way to a strong buildup in the middle that explodes into a heavy riff breakdown that features some of Muse’s best instrumentation on the album. It then calms into a piano ballad that ends the song on a nice note. Muse is known to experiment on their albums, and this is it in “Drones.” These are the guys that have done a three-part symphony, an official song for the Olympics and dubstep electronica throughout their career. “The Globalist” is a piece of cake comparing it to those. It just may be off putting to some newcomers for such a long and ambitious song.

The self-titled song “Drones” finishes the album by creating an unusual blend of choir and operatic-like sounds that one wouldn’t expect to close the album. The song — done entirely in acapella — is soothing to listen to. It’s definitely one of Muse’s more experimental tracks and in this case, a beautiful experiment. While it may not be a song that somebody will listen to everyday, it can certainly attract another audience that’s not into the alternative rock genre Muse is known for.

Much praise must be given to the band’s creativity, for at the heart of “Drones” there lies a story. It’s a concept album, and when heard together in the right order, the overarching story telling makes sense. It’s about a person who’s lost and dead inside eventually being brainwashed into a “psycho” and a mindless “drone” who later seeks freedom from being controlled for so long. It’s creative, and actually makes the album as a whole much better.

“Drones” is ambitious for going back to basics and telling a story through its songs of desire, love, conspiracies, freedom, world domination, war and more. At the cost of its restricted themes and story, the lyrics are not up to par as one would expect. But the instrumentation almost makes up for the lyrics. “Drones” is not Muse’s best album, but it is a solid effort for a band 20 years into their career with seven albums under their belt.

Rating: 4 stars