A concept album about resisting a totalitarian government, you say? Wait—didn't this British alt-rock trio already do one of those? Answer: Yes. Yes, they did, in the form of 2009's The Resistance.
But Muse simply couldn't resist more deep thoughts about a man co-opted into serving a repressive government he at first repels, then gets brainwashed by, then ultimately fights against once more. Drones tells his stereophonic story.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
From start to finish, Drones rails against the concept of a corrupt government brainwashing and reprogramming mindless masses to perpetrate murderous mayhem in the name of brutal assimilation. "Psycho" may set the stage for that ("You will kill on my command"), but it's on album opener "Dead Inside" that the protagonist recognizes (distantly) that he's been reprogrammed ("On the outside I'm the greatest guy/Now I'm dead inside").
Then, just a couple of songs later, he's trying to break free from those mental bonds ("Help me/I've fallen on the inside/I tried to change the game/I tried to infiltrate/ … Save me from the ghosts and shadows before they eat my soul/ … Mercy, mercy/Show me mercy/From the powers that be/Show me mercy/Can someone rescue me?").
"Reapers" looks at a drone strike from the perspective of someone on the receiving end: "There's a crosshair locked on my heart/With no recourse, and there's no one behind the wheel/Hellfire, you're wiping me out/Killed by/Drones." "The Handler" laments, "My mind/Was lost in translation/And my heart/Has become a cold and impassive machine." But, again, he's beginning to fight back ("I won't let you control my feelings anymore/And I will no longer do as I'm told/I am no longer afraid to walk alone/ … I'm escaping from your grip/You will never own me again"). And "Defector," which suggests that any country built on oppressive practices is doomed to collapse, defiantly proclaims, "I'm free/From your inciting/You can't brainwash me."
Rebellion against the drone-wielding totalitarians spikes on "Revolt," where we see the spirit of the resisters: "You've got strength/You've got soul/You've felt pain/You've felt love/ … You can make this world what you want."
Lurching toward a nuclear-tinged conflagration at album's end, "Aftermath" finds hope in the love shared by two survivors: "From this moment/You will never be alone/We're bound together/Now and forever/The loneliness has gone." And "The Globalist" suggests that it's love that loses when nukes are loosed.
Nine times "Psycho" repeats, "I'm gonna make you/A f---ing psycho" and threatens, "Your a-- belongs to me now." It bellows, "I'm in control, m-----f---er."
More subtle yet more troubling is the idea that religious beliefs and references to the church, instead of offering hope and life, are to be lumped in with the soul-shattering influence of corrupt governments. "Dead Inside" suggests that faith has a mind-numbing effect with, "Dead inside/Revere a million prayers/And draw me into your holiness/But there's nothing there/Light only shines from those who stare." "The Globalist" says that both the church and the state failed a man who goes on to be a genocidal destroyer of civilizations ("You were never truly loved/You have only been betrayed/You were never truly nurtured/By churches of the state"). A mention on "Mercy" to "absent gods and silent tyranny" could be thought of as including the one true God as well.
The sexual touch of a warm-blooded, cold-souled woman (on "Dead Inside") seems to be what initially corrupts the album's protagonist.
"Reapers" links a drone attack and much more to the United States ("You rule with lies and deceit/And the world is on your side/You've got the CIA, babe/And all you've done is brutalize").
As the album title implies, Drones' lyrical content focuses much of its attention on how warfare is conducted in the 21st century. Namely, nameless, faceless operators manning drones that kill nameless, faceless enemies, remotely, clinically.
Or, as Muse frontman Matt Bellamy put it in an interview with gigwise.com, "The world is run by drones utilizing drones to turn us all into drones. This album explores the journey of a human, from their abandonment and loss of hope, to their indoctrination by the system to be a human drone, to their eventual defection from their oppressors."
And then, about halfway through the album, Muse starts pointing political fingers. We hear a recording of John F. Kennedy, from a 1961 speech, saying, "For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence: on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night instead of armies by day. It is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations. Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised."
What the band seems to want to do with that quote is subvert it, suggesting that the U.S. has become the very thing our president denounced.
If politics and religion can be separated from art, powerful points can be discerned about the dehumanizing effects of technology on warfare and government, the horrors that can come from unchecked authority, the bloodlust that lurks in the darkest corners of all human hearts. And we can learn that a right response to oppression should include ruggedly individualistic love and hope.
If they cannot (or should not) be pulled apart, then rateyourmusic.com commenter "nathanten" is right to say, "As a concept album, Drones has politics that are embarrassing and make American Idiot seem subtle." More pointedly, Drones can easily be interpreted as a profane screed against the church and the United States.