26 intriguing facts about the trio’s latest ambitious and paranoid LP…
Muse’s latest opus is a dense, complex and often paranoid trip full of shady government forces, psycho military men and terrifying modern warfare. To help you unpick the new album, here’s an A-Z guide to its literary references, musical influences and socio-political messages. From Terminator 2 to Nicola Sturgeon, here’s everything you need to know about the bonkers and ambitious ‘Drones’…
A is for Artificial Intelligence: One of Matt Bellamy’s main fears and arguably the main theme of ‘Drones’ is the prospect of computers making decisions based on algorithms about whether drone strikes should be ordered against potential insurgents. “The whole thing’s quite frightening,” he said, “and I don’t think the public are really as aware as they should be of where this is all going.”
B is for Brian Glynn Williams: American writer and author of the book Predators: The CIA’s Drone War On Al Qaeda, which Matt says he read while working on ‘Drones’. “I was shocked,” he said. “I didn’t know how prolific drone usage had been.” Williams’ book alleges that drones are currently being used in Pakistan in “the CIA’s largest assassination campaign since the Vietnam War.”
C is for Conspiracy theories: Bellamy has long been fascinated by the idea of shady new world order oppression, accusing the US government of staging 9/11 in a 2006 interview and earlier suggesting the British monarchy are secretly “lizard people”. ‘Drones’ is similarly preoccupied with dark government forces, threaded with lyrics about “men in cloaks” and puppeteer hypnotists (‘Mercy’).
D is for drones: Well, duh. The word pops up in almost every track on the album as Bellamy weaves a narrative about a soldier trained to be a brainless killing machine eventually rebelling against that blind brutality. The frontman is right to notice their increased prominence: sales of commercial drones surged 167% to 4.3 million last year, raising new concerns about privacy and safety.
E is for Ennio Morricone and Elgar: As NME writer Mark Beaumont sagely observed in his fairly glowing review of the album, ‘The Globalist’ – in which our hero starts his own nuclear state and destroys the planet – is a 10-minute epic taking in chunks of Ennio Morricone funeral scene metal and Elgar’s 19th century Enigma Variations: Nimrod.
F is for former US Secretary Of State Colin Powell: During the making of ‘Drones’ Matt found himself rubbing shoulders with Powell at at a White House Correspondents Dinner. “I think when people get offered the chance to become a part of [American politics] they are willing to sacrifice a part of their inner morality,” Matt told NME of his encounter.
G is for Giovanni Gabrieli: The final track on ‘Drones’ is apparently based on the choral music of Italian composer Gabrieli. There are no instruments: only Bellamy’s voice looped over and over into a fugue choir-of-one, bemoaning the crushing power of modern warfare. “My mother… my father… my sister, my brother, my son, my daughter, killed by drones… amen.”
H is for hollow-point bullets: One of the subjects Matt pressed Powell on during their White House chinwag. These are a special type of bullet that cause severe damage to targets. “Homeland Security had purchased millions of them,” he said. “They explode when they hit you – I think they are banned under the Geneva Convention. It looked like they were preparing for massive riots.”
I is for Italian strings: As revealed on their Instagram in December last year, the trio travelled to Milan, Italy to record a string section for ‘Drones’, meaning despite claiming to be stripping back to basics on the record, there’s still moments of epic orchestral grandeur.
J is for jazz hands: According to bassist Chris Wolstenhome, the band are interested in giving ‘Drones’ some razzmatazz and taking it to the West End. “It would be great to be able to have it incorporated into some sort of musical or something,” he said, nodding towards the strong story of redemption threaded through the album. “It’s not something that we’ve ever done before.”
K is for Kate Hudson: Matt split with actress fiancee Hudson while working on ‘Drones’. Matt told NME of the break-up: “It’s difficult for me to pinpoint anything on the LP specifically about that… except that when someone suddenly finds themselves outside of a relationship, they think over the points in their lives when they think things didn’t go the way they expected them to.”
L is for letter-boxing: It’s not all shady secrets and violent warfare for Matt Bellamy on ‘Drones’. Before the album’s release he told NME that one of his favourite outdoor pursuits was letter-boxing – a wholesome game where you go out and find boxes, based on clues hidden for you in boxes in fields.
M is for Matt Mahurin: US illustrator and designer responsible for ‘Drones” creepy album artwork. Mahurin, who has previously worked with Ozzy Osbourne and Marilyn Manson, said the album title put him in mind of “a dark and intriguing exploration of the potential virtues and abuses that come with control, responsibility and purpose.”
N is for NSA: The real-world context that gives ‘Drones’ its kick, and proof that truth is stranger than fiction and sci-fi dystopia isn’t so far off – Edward Snowden’s revelations about government spying dovetail nicely with Matt and co’s vision of an oppressive, totalitarian state.
O is for Obama: “Apparently Obama gets up in the morning, has a shave, goes down for breakfast, has a cup of tea, and before his day starts, he will sit there in the War Room and make kill decisions,” Matt told NME of one of his fascinations that informed ‘Drones’. “This one. Not that one. Kill. Don’t kill.” Technology has taken all the empathy out of military operations, he claims.
P is for psychopathic behaviour: In addition to his obsession with the realities of click-and-kill modern warfare, Matt was also reading about psychopaths while working on ‘Drones’. One of the books he’s mentioned in relation to the album has been Jon Ronson’s ace ‘The Psychopath Test’, in which the award-winning writer suggests that many government leaders have psychopathic tendencies.
Q is for quoting former American presidents: On the 54-second long ‘[JFK]’, which sits between ‘The Handler’ and ‘Defector’, Muse take snippets from a speech by former US President John F Kennedy on the rise and power of the USSR. “For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy,” he’s heard to say over terse strings.
R is for Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange: ‘Drones’ producer who has worked with everyone from Lady Gaga to Nickelback but is best known for his production duties with AC/DC, for whom he manned studio controls on classics ‘Highway To Hell’ and ‘Back In Black’. Can’t argue with those credentials.
S is for Snakes In Suits: Another on Bellamy’s reading list that influenced this new album’s lyrical themes. A tome on the perils of psychopaths in the workplace, this time from authors Robert D Hare and Paul Babiak. According to the academic pair, one in 100 people in the US are psychopaths, and scarily adept at worming their way into power.
T is for Terminator 2: Matt has drawn comparisons between the technology behind drone strikes with the sci-fi horrors of James Cameron’s ‘Terminator 2’, in which machines become so self-aware they are able to overthrow humanity. “When we grew up, we watched things like Terminator 2 and you’d see these kind of things happening in the future – but we’re kind of there now.”
V is for vandalism: “I’m surprised no one has drawn a penis on it,” laughed drummer Dom Howard about the mural of the band in their Teignmouth hometown, yet to be defaced in the run up to the trio’s seventh studio album. “Oh yeah, we definitely would have done that!” added Matt. Clearly vandals are as sharp as they used to be.
W is for World War III: “Deep ecology, the empathy gap and World War III” were the themes Bellamy hinted at before the release of ‘Drones’, and bloody conflict indeed runs throughout the LP – in penultimate track ‘The Globalist’, the world is left destroyed by the bombs of war.
X is for x-rated singles: According to Bellamy, the album’s first single, ‘Psycho’, wasn’t play listed ahead of its release because it had been deemed “too offensive for radio”. Yep, that’s what eleven “fucks” in one song will do to you.
Y is for the Yes campaign: A decent reflection of the anti-establismentarian vibe of ‘Drones’ – during a preview show for the album in Glasgow in March, they dedicated their track ‘Uprising’ to all fans who’d voted Yes in the Scottish referendum. Big victory for Nicola Sturgeon, that.
Z is for Showbizzzz: ‘Drones’ is Muse channeling past spirits and stripping down the excess of the likes of ‘The 2nd Law’ to a rawness not seen since debut LP ‘Showbiz’. “By our standards, it is back to basics,” said Dom Howard. “Yeah, it’s layered and bombastic, but at the start of the process was very different to how we normally do it.”