If a great song is like great sex, then a great album is akin to a life-long love affair.

They rise and fall through first and lasts, joys and pains, feats and failures, suffering, chaos, control and comfort; they make a mess of our logic and set fire to our passion; they carry us on a journey that, at times, seems unreal, abstracted, and even contrived only until we once again receive their electric kiss to the ear and feel a sensual surge throughout the body reminding us of how real the torrents of life can be–especially those that flow forth from our creative acts.

And much like love, an album can be cliché but this does not necessarily deny it greatness. Truth is often cliché but true nonetheless. It is, after all, the work of the artist to revive life’s old maxims, to blow the dust from their book covers, rediscover their raison d’être, and recast them anew into something beautiful–that is, an artist is a creator willing to dirty his hands in the clay of cliché so that he may mold new life out of our everyday, mundane mud.

In this light, what could be more mundane than the corrupt trappings of power? What could more banal than the breaking of minds and the berefting of souls through political control? How many times has the individual been pummelled only to be stoked to fight for freedom, meaning, and love in the face of tyranny, nothingness and hatred?

These are the themes addressed by the English rock band Muse with their new album Drones, the album itself a return for the band to their primordial mud as a power rock trio equipped with guitar, bass and drums. The album follows a protagonist stripped of his love, sapped of his freedom, and conscripted to serve the machinations of power.

“Power,” writes fellow English author George Orwell in his famous novel 1984, “is not a means; it is an end. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. How does one man assert his power over another? By making him suffer. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

Indeed, it is. But where Orwell leaves little, nay, no hope at all for escape from Big Brother, the writer and composer behind Drones, Matt Bellamy, provides a resounding message of hope in the face of powers beyond our control. After entering into the pits of despair of modern warfare and living like a human “drone,” the album’s protagonist realizes he must defect, he can revolt, and he will restore the hollow shell of his life through love and soulcraft even in the face of death.

As Bellamy has said of the album’s theme:

“The power of an individual can overcome a complex system, a corrupt corporation, a corrupt government or technology as a whole stripping out humanity; That there’s something inside of us that can overcome that, even just in one person.”

Beginning at the end, this theme is best and most subtly achieved with an ironic interplay of music with lyrics on the album’s last song “Drones” wherein the lyrics, “Killed by drones/My mother, my father/My sister and my brother/My son and my daughter/Killed by drones” are presented in a haunting, ethereal a cappella arrangement, a swan song addressed to the literal and figurative “drones” of the world that they are destroying something sacred–that is, human beings with love of soul and the power of song.

Their voices rise from the ashes, from beyond the grave. Their ghosts pray to the power-stricken machines of the world in soft, overlapping tones. They serve as a reminder that even something ugly, destructive, and tragic can be made beautiful through art, love and soulcraft:

Our lives between your fingers

Can you feel anything?

Are you dead inside?

Now you can kill from the safety of your home with drones



Throughout, the album expresses a tension between self and society, between freedom and control, contrasting the pointless suffering brought on by oppression and the profound happiness found in the struggle for liberation. In the best tradition of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the literal serves as a symbol for an internal struggle for one’s soul. A battle is waged as public poses, duties, and pressures weigh down upon our protagonist’s inner integrity and humanity.  Power is rightfully treated as seductive, tempting, and opportunistic. Power preys upon those who have lost purpose and love of life.

And for our protagonist, his journey begins with a loss of love, a romance turned sour, as told by the first track on the album “Dead Inside”:

Your skin feels warm to caress

I see magic in your eyes

On the outside you’re ablaze and alive

But you’re dead inside!

Feel me now

Hold me please

I need you to see who I am

Open up to me

Stop hiding from me

It’s hurting babe

Only you can stop the pain

Don’t leave me out in the cold

Don’t leave me out to die

I gave you everything

I can’t give you anymore

Now I’ve become just like you

My lips feel warm to the touch

My words seem so alive

My skin is warm to caress

I’ll control and hypnotise

You’ve taught me to lie

Without a trace

And to kill with no remorse

On the outside I’m the greatest guy

Now I’m dead inside!


Now forlorn and fragmented, our “dead inside” hero is ripe for exploitation by power. Again, power is “tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing,” and the second track on the album, “Psycho,” expresses just this understanding:

Love, it will get you nowhere

You’re on your own

Lost in the wild

So come to me now

I could use someone like you

Someone who’ll kill on my command

And asks no questions

I’m gonna make you

I’m gonna break you

I’m gonna make you

A fucking psycho

Your ass belongs to me now


Once we reach the album’s next track, the anthemic song “Mercy,” we can see our protagonist calling out with a desperate plea for help before his soul has been completely consumed:

Help me

I’ve fallen on the inside

And all the men in cloaks

Trying to devour my soul

Show me mercy

From the powers that be

Show me mercy

From the gutless and mean

Show me mercy

From the killing machines

Show me mercy

Can someone rescue me?


We have now arrive at the album’s darkest and, in my opinion, best hard rock song, “Reapers.” It is a track at times reminiscent of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” and at others of the thick guitar tone and nasty riffs off Rush’s epic  “The Necromancer” as well as many tastes of other modern rock staples. The song is well constructed and showcases the use of subtle electronic techniques Muse perfected over their last two albums, in particular 2012’s The 2nd Law. The guitar solo is a face melting extravaganza that reaches its pinnacle in a duel between guitar and bass only to sweep into the chorus chords and finally the last refrain of lyrics that fade into an ominous buzzing of reapers and scream of sirens overhead:

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 brutalise

You kill by remote control

And the world is on your side

You’ve got reapers and hawks babe

And now I am radicalised

Here come the drones!


As “Reapers” fades away the next track, “The Handler” shows our protagonist beginning to break away from his “handler” and undergo a personal transformation. He begins to question as he recounts what he has done as a killing machine and lashes out with insubordination:

I won’t let you control my feelings anymore

And I will no longer do as I am told

And I am no longer afraid to walk alone

Let me go

Let me be

I’m escaping from your grip

You will never own me again

This insubordination sets the stage for another brilliant twist of cruel irony, as the next song “Defector” is ushered in by a spoken word track “JFK,” an excerpt from an address given by the American President John F. Kennedy regarding the techniques of Communism in 1961.

The implied question is this: who is JFK describing today?

“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.”


The lyrics of “Defector” are straightforward maybe to a fault, and in fact, the whole of Drones has been criticized for being too lyrically blunt.

But I appreciate the clarity of the lyrics when placed in the context of the music. For instance, the lyrics from “Defector” read “Free/Yeah, I’m free/From your inciting/You can’t brainwash me/You’ve got a problem/Free/Yeah I’m free/From society/You can’t control me/I’m a defector.” They are sung in dramatic fashion over heavy guitar and bass with lush vocal backings that sound like something off Queen’s A Night at the Opera. The simplicity of the lyric along with this overthetop delivery is, in my opinion, powerful and accessible–that is, it’s rock & roll at its best.

And it reminds me of a message–one of utmost importance to liberty lovers. As I have written before:

“Libertarians see the State as a superfluous institution, an unnecessary evil that continually corrupts the peaceful relations of commercial and cultural exchange.  Therefore, libertarians hold a strong conviction that beside directly arguing against the State’s legitimacy (indeed a worthwhile endeavor,) rebellious actions outside of the State’s imposition–counter cultural movements if you will–are not only possible but vital to the cause of spreading human liberty.

And here’s the rub, even if libertarians were to do nothing more than think this idea true and say it to their fellows on occasion, just the idea that the State can be resisted as an unnecessary evil is already a dangerous form of rebellion that undermines the culture of State power, for, as said before, the authority of the State does not rest in its uses of aggressive force but in the people’s acceptance of that force as legitimate.

The most effective tools at your disposal for delegitimizing the State are not only your ideas but your example of living a life of liberty. Be the freedom you wish for the world.”

This message of resistance is carried through the next track “Revolt” where the message becomes more introspective and empowering for the individual:

You’ve got strength, you’ve got soul

You’ve felt pain, you’ve felt love

You can grow, you can grow

You can make this world what you want

You can revolt

And finally, our protagonist comes full circle in the song “Aftermath,” a love song set in the context of a world on fire. In such a world, what becomes most important is the love we create. If the world is falling apart, it is best to watch it crumble while nestled in the redeeming arms of a lover:

States are crumbling

Walls are rising high again

It’s no place for the faint-hearted

But my heart is strong

Because now I know where I belong

It’s you and I against the world

We are free

From this moment

From this moment

You will never be alone

We’re bound together

Now and forever

The loneliness has gone

Though life can often be tragic, it doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful or meaningful. In the face of powers beyond our control, in the face of death and destruction, in the face of a seemingly approaching nothingness, we must have the wherewithal to say control, death, destruction, nothingness are powerless in the face of our deepest held convictions–our love of life and existence.

Evil wears a mask of deception and beckons you to perform your own self-deception. Evil wants you to believe that it is all powerful, that it is sexy, that is it practically advantageous, that life is meaningless, that suffering is man’s natural state, that love is merely a sentimental something, the soul a fit of wishful thinking, and life a nasty, brutish, and short death march to a terminus of unfreedom.

Evil, parading like a tyrannical director upon the stage, offers us three possible roles, claiming they are the only options:  that of the conqueror, that of the vanquished, or that of the fool who has forgotten the difference between laughter and crying. Evil wants you to believe it is inevitable or, even worse, necessary–and that the good will never prevail.

But as I have written before, “Evil is not necessary. You always have a choice, a radical freedom, to stand against it.”

From this vantage point of our radical freedom, we can see evil is nothing but a parasite, a perversion, a petty something that offers us the whole wide world as a false promise. To try and control the whole world is the road to hell on earth. But to control oneself is to build a ladder to paradise.

Refusing to control the world and others, evil then threatens to put a dagger through our heart–to control us. But this merely reminds us we have something to lose in the first place, and always will as long as we are willing to stand for love and truth independent from evil’s temptations. Once love has been found, no amount of suffering can take it away.

Suffering may come in life. When it does, it rushes forth in different degrees from the annoying and short-lived sting of the wasp to the profound and permanent loss of a parent. But suffering is certainly not an end in itself. It is not a necessary component of life. It is merely part of our worthwhile struggle to live.  When we cry over the loss of someone or something we love, we are reminded our love is still there and our melancholy becomes a blessing.

Many a life-long love affair is sealed with words “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part” and how puissant a tradition this is. From first kisses to last rites, through hot and heavy romps to heated and painful fights, from youthful exuberance to elderly languor, through harmless flirting to the sharing of the soul, we trudge through our life’s loves bestriding the poles of joy and suffering, knowing all the while that to strive for happiness and love is worth any suffering and loss that may come along the way.

Let us not forget all these extremes rest upon our life’s innate freedom and meaning. This is why we make art. This is why we must rescue these truth from becoming passé by creating great works of music, painting, and literature. Our lives depend upon our beautiful fictions, our artistic lies.

Even if I may lose everything. Even I may suffer and eventually die, I will not relent. I refuse to bow to any power. I will never sacrifice my or anyone’s life on any altar. To pull through suffering, to glean meaning from suffering, is not a sacrifice; it is an affirmation of life, a reminder of what we can achieve when we love life for its own sake, relish our challenges, and cherish every kiss that rescues us from the powers that be.