The only thing that will leave you in a wilder state of nail-biting anxiety after listening to Muse’s 7th album, Drones, is talking to frontman Matt Bellamy himself about it. When explaining the ideas and inspirations that have birthed the band’s first ever proper concept album, the main songwriter and conceptualist behind the Devon-born trio builds a sense of panic that sits well with the rationale of Drones, which they produced with Mutt Lange [AC/DC, The Cars, Def Leppard] and recorded in Vancouver. Drones is a concisely realised piece of science fiction, a theory narrated through super-charged rock riffs and an ambitious vision that, given Muse’s modus operandi as The Greatest Live Band On Earth, will undoubtedly be accompanied in the future by some outrageously intelligent, fully sensory live experience.
You should fear for the day that complete imagination of Drones comes to fruition because if the music is anything to go by then the show might feature the simulation of Armageddon, cameos by the Star Wars clones from Episode II and a potential enforced uprising by all in attendance. The thought does cross your mind over the course of Drones’ 12 tracks that if anyone wanted to establish a new post-everything religion and build a following by reaching out to people’s iPods and Spotify accounts, thereafter holding church in the world’s most gargantuan rock stadiums to audiences of thousands, then Matt Bellamy, Dominic Howard and Chris Wolstenholme may well have taken the concept of ‘Rock God’ to a new, quite literal level…
“Hahahahahaha,” laughs Matt tickled by the notion that he could be a modern day prophet of rock’n’roll. Masked by Ray-Ban sunglasses while sitting in the blazing Santa Monica sunshine, Matt converses at such a speed you’d think the world was running out of time. He recalls completing the last album run for ‘The 2nd Law’ at Coachella festival several hours’ drive from here only a year previous. It’s during that time that the initial conception for Drones came to him. It’s as mad as a march hare, as mind-boggling as the first time you read Pilgrim’s Progress and as revolutionarily thrilling as your debut encounter with the Wachowski brothers’ Matrix movies. The more you dwell on it, the more it seems to make sense.
Drones begins with the single ‘Dead Inside’ and ends with closer ‘Drones’, journeying along a clear beginning, middle and end. It touches on themes that past Muse works have explored: the idea that technology is taking over humanity, the deceit and toxicity of our society’s hierarchies and the disappointment and simultaneous elation that can take hold of your mind when you’re in loving relationships that turn sour. It all started, however, with the notion of ‘Kill Decisions’ and Matt’s reading list which included Jon Ronson’s ‘The Psychopath Test’ and ‘Predators: The CIA’s Drone War On Al Qaeda’ by journalist Brian Glyn Williams about the prolificness of killing drones over the past decade. It’s fair to say that while reading this material, Matt’s mind started to work overtime. “I was surprised to learn that since he’s been in Office, President Obama gets up for breakfast, goes down to the War Rooms and sits at a computer screen making kill decisions,” says Matt, matter of factly. “What an amazing, dark position to be put in.”
The notion of the most powerful politician on the planet exercising control over the life-or-death of strangers from such a removed distance via remote control really haunted him, the idea that we’re progressing towards a time when an authority will be able to end someone’s life without any element of human involvement. “You’re telling a command to tell a remote control to tell a robot to kill someone. It becomes very easy.” His research led him to the discovery that in Britain too we’re on the edge of inventing artificial intelligence which won’t require humans to make such decisions. Drones will be programmed to hover around target areas and kill anyone via facial recognition or GPS tracking. It’s terrifying. “I’m not talking about whether that’s right or wrong, I’m taking about whether a kill decision should be made with that level of distance, that ability for empathy to be taken out of the equation. That got me thinking about psychopaths and the way the world’s structured, how politics and business tend to favour emotionless people, their success a result of not caring for the labour force or civilians. It started to merge together and made sense to tackle via an album.”
For Bellamy, Drones became the metaphor for what it means to build a killing machine with no capacity for feeling – the ultimate psychopathic object. It works on many levels, of course. “You can’t help but write about your own personal feelings too, and I started creating this idea of a protagonist going on a journey from losing faith in themselves, giving up and becoming cold and vulnerable. It’s in that state when you become easily controllable.”