Sad Robot World

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2016
Original album - Super
Producer - Stuart Price
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

The only true ballad on Super, which (as Neil told an interviewer for Attitude magazine) was inspired by a visit to a Volkswagen factory in Germany: "We did a presentation at the Frankfurt motor show and got a tour of the factory. It’s so clean. Robots are washing cars. There was something about it that was balletic; it had a sense of melancholy. I said 'It’s a sad robot world, isn’t it?' and I wrote that phrase down and we turned it into a song."

It's remarkable how warm a song with such a seemingly cold subject can be. Surrounded by lush electronic orchestration, Neil (or at least his narrative persona) anthropomorphizes the machines he observes, assigning human feelings to them when, as we all know, they simply don't have human feelings. Instead we project our own feelings upon them. In this way, they become a mirror of our own souls; they reflect us back to us. Thus, when Neil sings, "I thought I heard one crying," he's expressing his own—or, again, his narrator's—sadness.

Might there not also be an underlying level of socio-economic commentary at work here? Perhaps the melancholy that Neil finds in these working robots is grief—maybe even at a subconscious level—over the lost jobs for humans they represent. After all, robots offer a lot of advances for their employers compared to human workers. As Neil sings, they offer "silent dedication," require "no sleep, no food, no pay," and do "as commanded 24 hours a day": management's dream come true. They are, in effect, slaves. No wonder they seem so sad. But in light of this, perhaps the saddest thing of all about a sad robot world is the very fact that it is composed of cold, unfeeling robots, replacing flesh-and-blood workers who are instead lined up at the local unemployment office.


List cross-references