Every three years or so, British rock’s stadium-filling trio Muse release a new album and the world gets an update on the paranoid brain of Matt Bellamy. Voice of secret truths or Alex Jones with awesome guitar skills? It’s not always obvious.
The band’s latest album is called Drones, which might be the most Muse name for a Muse album you could possibly think of. It’s actually alright; it’s heavier - and better produced - than their last couple of efforts, but this is not the back-to-roots record the band made out in the lead up to its release. In fact, Drones is new territory for Muse for one major reason: it’s a concept album.
But what could Drones be a concept album about, Matt? Call me a CONSPIRACY THEORIST but if I were to guess what that impenetrable album cover is hinting at, I’d say that we the humans are drones being controlled by a bigger drone that’s being controlled by a BIGGER drone.
It’s also about flying drones, and not the ones made by Parrot that you chase the dog around the house with. Flying drones are the next step in the devolution of human self-control. It’s a double meaning. Sort of.
But are we already drones? Will autonomous killing machines bring about the end of humanity? Is ISIS actually the Israeli Secret Intelligence Service, created by US Senator John McCain?
These are the questions we must answer. Strap yourselves in for our track-by-track breakdown - this is high-concept stuff.
I expect the most enduring part of Drones will be the question mark over whether any of it is to do with Kate Hudson, with her and Bellamy breaking off their relationship around the time the album was being written.
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
Our protagonist is cold and empty, ready to be indoctrinated by “the man”. We’re in the heart of darkness; through the looking glass. Is Bellamy saying Hudson is dead inside? No time to speculate - a drill sergeant is now barking orders: “Your ass belongs to me now!” We’re thrown into the riff-led Psych where our military commander helpfully narrates the story.
Are you a human drone!? (Aye, Sir!)
Are you a killing machine!? (Aye, Sir!)
I’m in control motherfucker, do you understand!? (Aye, Sir!)
A human DRONE. Are you getting it yet? Nevermind.
[Reading recommendation: http://www.globalresearch.ca/masters-of-manipulation-psychopaths-rule-the-world/5383706]
For background, this case study by Global Research posits that politicians and psychopaths share a number of characteristics.
“Psychopaths are super intelligent charmers who are highly skilled at playing others in order to get what they want. They are keenly perceptive at reading people, understanding their motives and values, brilliant at learning their weaknesses and blind spots, and highly effective at inducing both sympathy and guilt in others.”
Then Mercy kicks in, which is basically Starlight in its angsty teenage years. Bellamy begs for compassion from the “killing machines”. There’s also a mention of shadowy figures calling the shots from above. DOUBLE MEANING. Sort of.
Men in cloaks always seem to run the show
Save me from the ghosts and shadows before they eat my soul
[Reading recommendation: http://icrac.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Scientist-Call_Press-Release.pdf]
In comes Reapers, arguably the best track on the album, where our lifeless puppet of a hero is controlling killer drones via remote. Just like the album cover! We’re also back to flying drones. DOUBLE MEANING. Sort of.
With no recourse, and there’s no one behind the wheel
Hellfire, you’re wiping me out
Hellfire is an air-to-surface missile used by Predator drones, but the song also hints at autonomous drones - lethal autonomous weapons (known as LAWs) that act independently of human control. The military term is “fire and forget”.
“They’ve invented these autonomous killing machines,” Matt recently told Q magazine. “these drones that can make their own kill decisions. If we’re willing to accept that, that is the beginning of the end of human empathy.”
I think Matt’s jumping the gun just a tad - we’re still a while off seeing fully-functional autonomous drones, let alone seeing them used in the field. But the idea is being worked on, and with the Pentagon lacking drone pilots you can see why the idea of having just one person presiding over several aircraft is an attractive one.
This is the frustrating disconnect of the album for me, because the use of flying drones actually is an interesting talking point, but it gets a bit lost in all the brain-control stuff and the “You’re just one of them, maaaan” talk.
I’d suggest dropping a couple of the earlier tracks and replacing them with something about Amazon battling the FAA over its Prime deliver drones. Yeah, Rock and roll!
[Reading recommendations: http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/Rise-of-robotic-killing-machines-has-a-cautious-6219854.php
Reapers ends with someone (the bassist, I think) yelling “HERE COME THE DRONES”, but the most telling part of Reapers is its video, featuring a woman chasing a dude with her remotely controlled drone as words like “WAR” and “THE TRUTH” and “KILLED BY DRONES” flash on the screen. However in the end the guy seems to just die from… exhaustion?
You’ve got reapers and hawks, babe
Reapers and Global Hawks are variants of drone. Matt seems to be addressing this drone-controlling woman from the video who is definitely not Kate Hudson.
Here's the artwork for this track. Get it?
Because it’s a hand. And because the hand is HANDLING and controlling its specimen. It’s a bit like the iconic imagery that was used for The Godfather, if The Godfather had actually been called “The guy in this film is controlling everybody like a puppeteer”
“My heart has become a cold and impassive machine”
Our hero has hit peak drone.
More on those psychopaths here.
Into the Queen-esque Defector, which kicks off with an extract from JFK’s landmark 1961 speech about the rise of communism.
Yeah I’m free
From your inciting
Our protagonist has broken from his drone-y shackles. “I’m a defector!” cries Bellamy.
Take that, BBC! This man will not abide by your regularly scheduled programming.
[Reading recommendation: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/brainwashing1.htm]
Our freedom’s just a loan
Run by machines and drones
At last - Bellamy un-shrouds the mystery and reveals what Drones has been about this entire time. Our collective mind is blown.
Well that escalated quickly. Drones crescendos with our protagonist destroying the planet with nuclear weapons - or at least I think that’s what’s going on.
Arm yourself, you can be strong
You can build a nuclear power
Transform the earth to your desire
Free your mind from false beliefs
You can be the commander in chief
Here's something Matt tweeted a while ago:
The album then concludes with its titular track as Bellamy is joined by a choral orchestra, repeatedly singing the line “Killed by drones”. Each line hits as if David Icke and Alex Jones have us pinned to the floor while Matt bashes us relentlessly around the ears with a copy of 1984.
Muse Drones Review Score:
On the album as a whole: 6
On Matt Bellamy's Conspirac-ometer: A solid 9.