Although 1976’s Technical Ecstasy (Vertigo/BMG) is unlikely to ever be viewed as a top tier release among most Black Sabbath fans, the fact that it exists at all goes to demonstrate the Birmingham foursome’s resilience and determination in those early days, if not the focus.
After the bluesy Southern Rock of 2018s rollicking Family Tree and the two blues covers EPs Back to Blues comes The Human Condition (Mascot Records) – out and out hard rock upon which they built their career. Like Clutch, Black Stone Cherry do not make bad albums and this new one – their seventh – is another example of this.
Muse didn’t become one of the biggest bands in the world by accident. They put in years cultivating their style of smart arena rock, dreamy synthy pop cadences with a super intellectual, cynical bent. Usually once you become to successful, your art starts to suffer. Muse proves on Drones (Warner Bros.) that they have entered their second decade as a band as hungry as ever.
In typical fashion, the lead track and bona-fide hit single ‘Dead Inside’ is the album’s catchiest ear-worm, yet is highly subversive. I giggle to myself thinking of teenagers bumping this song on the way to school, parents unaware of the lyrical nature of the track. The slick pop rock of the tune aside, you can tell a well written song when you hear one, with clever key changes and great singing from Matthew Bellamy. He shines throughout Drones.
‘Drill Sargeant’ gives way to ‘Psycho’ which could give Marilyn Manson a run for his mascara in the goth-rock swing he perfected so well; right down to Christopher Wolstenholme’s distorted bass rumble. One thing that Muse has done well historically is to infuse their dystopic visions of the future with slivers of hopefulness. ‘Mercy’ is a rousing anthem of pain and possibility. Initially I was put off by ‘Reapers’ weak opening: kind of a slo-mo guitaring ‘Hot For Teacher’, but without the great drumming. But the full track itself is an ass kicker. Punk beats, big riffs and a great delivery from Bellamy again. To say that ‘Handler’ sounds like it could have easily been written by Trent Reznor 10 years ago, is a high compliment. Another giant, ebullient chorus you will be singing for days. The last third of the album is not quite a strong as its opening however, with tracks such as ‘Defector’ and ‘Revolt’ being a little too ELO sounding, even for a nerd like me. This is the part of the album where producer Mutt Lange flexed his muscles, so hard. ‘The Globalist’ saves the day though. Epic in scope, rain drops falling, lonesome Western-themed whistle, despondent protagonist going through an epic transformation emotionally, and all the musical movements reflecting that change. Amazing! The title-track/finale is a gorgeous display of chorale style singing and heart-string tugging words and solid way to put a bow on another release from modern rock’s royalty.