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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Drones

The Grammy for Best Rock Album went to Drones, by Muse, a group I knew faintly about but had never listened to. As a cantankerous old man who whines about the decline of rock in popular music, I wanted to see just what these voters think is good rock. Muse is not what I consider a great rock band, but this album is okay.

Apparently this is a concept album about how one man becomes a cog in a wheel, or a drone (it is not, seemingly, about unmanned weapons or the popular flying toy), which was a subject back in Charlie Chaplin's day in Modern Times. I say apparently because the lyric sheet is in a font so small a microscope is necessary to read it. In what I've read, the songs are linked together, a la Green Day's American Idiot or Pink Floyd's The Wall, with one man's progression, or digression, take your pick.

The opening song, "Dead Inside," sounds very much like U2, and lead singer Matt Bellamy does a fair Bono impression. But where the album kicks in is the second track, which starts with a drill sergeant's exhortation to his recruit to become a psycho killer. The song, "Psycho," may have banal lyrics, but it's a heart-thumping number, the kind that a teenager would listen to at full blast, his head right next to the stereo. It's by far the best song in the collection.

There are other pleasures, such as "Reapers," with a guitar sound reminiscent of Eddie Van Halen, the death metal sound of The Handler, and on "The Defector," with Queen (or Sweet) like harmonies. The penultimate sound is "The Globalist," a ten-minute opus that contains elements of Spaghetti Western scores, while the last and title track is an arrangement of choir voices.

Muse has been around for over twenty years, but have managed to fly under my radar. They have now won two Grammys for Best Rock Album, but I am more interested in the names they left behind, like Carnage Mayhem, The Gothic Plague, and Rocket Baby Dolls. Muse seems so tame in comparison.

While I found the album at times over-produced by Mutt Lange, it's very listenable and I think there's a message in there somewhere, including a speech by JFK suggesting that our enemies will not conquer us by invasion, but by infiltration. It may got back to Walt Kelly in Pogo saying, "I have met the enemy, and he is us."

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