BECCA BAINBRIDGE takes a look at the trajectory of Muse’s career over two decades.
In 1994, Rocket Baby Dolls won Teignmouth’s Battle of the Bands contest at Broadmeadow Sports Centre, having smashed up the equipment on loan to them (despite the efforts of a security guard), in the name of goth-glam. ‘It was supposed to be a protest, a statement,’ said Matt Bellamy, ‘so, when we actually won, it was a real shock, a massive shock. After that, we started taking ourselves seriously.’ With the Guinness Book of World Records for Most Guitars Smashed on Tour under Bellamy’s belt (having destroyed 140 guitars on the Absolution tour in 2005), the band still retains the essence of protest with which they started, but have swapped the small-town politics for motifs of anti-government and anti-bureaucracy, as seen in the title of their fifth studio album The Resistance.
Beginning with a renaming, Muse left their daytime jobs and their Devonshire hometown behind; but, little did they know, they would soon be swapping the sports hall for stadiums worldwide and employing security guards of their own to oversee crowds of up to 150,000 fans whilst on tour. Come 2015, front-man Bellamy’s words rang true in the band’s twenty-first year, a figurative coming of age which saw the release of the trio’s second Grammy award-winning album Drones: their most provocative to date. Though their antics on- and off-stage appear to have mellowed, the thematic focus of their lyrics has progressed from a teenage preoccupation with relationships, establishing themselves as a band, and alienation from society, to an embracing of their individuality (enhanced vividly by Bellamy’s eccentric dress), an obsession with apocalypse and Orwellian ideas of brainwashing, and humanity’s loss of empathy in a dehumanised state of warfare. Muse’s maturation of image – an amalgamation of Queen-like vocals, Radiohead-esque experimentation with genre and instrumentation, and solo guitar style likened to that of Jimi Hendrix – has been moulded into one of revolution.
Many of Muse’s songs reference books associated with rebellion, the most explicit of which is found in ‘Resistance’ which heavily alludes to the lovers of Orwell’s 1984. At first glance, the song appears to fit the narrative framework of Winston and Julie’s illicit partnership and subversion of Big Brother authority: ‘Is our secret safe tonight?/ And are we out of sight?/ Or will our world come tumbling down?’. However, The Resistance album as a whole makes it clear that this hatred of government does not lie in a two-dimensional, fictional sphere. Instead, the focus is upon individuality of expression, accessed and transmitted through variegated, creative mediums as conveyed by the band’s foray into dubstep territory with the track ‘Undisclosed Desires’, and into the classical with ‘Exogenesis: Symphony’ in three movements (‘Overture’, ‘Cross-Pollination’, and ‘Redemption’). The latter thirteen-minute long culmination of Rachmaninov, Richard Strauss, Chopin, and Pink Floyd, is a more mellow ending to the album, retrospectively revealing the opening track’s call-to-arms to be a warning about the consequences of participating in an ‘Uprising’. The inclusivity of the incendiary lyrics, ‘They will not force us / They will stop degrading us / They will not control us / We will be victorious’ transforms into a peaceful protest of words against a protest of violence. It is an exhortation for harmony between nations, the likes of the fourth track ‘United States of Eurasia’.
What began as a fear of technological evolution in Origin of Symmetry in 2001, transformed into the more radical notion of ‘endless red tape to keep the truth confined,’ going unnoticed and restricting our liberty. As visually conveyed in the video for Resistance, the three band members upon obelisks as they play on tour, Muse are not hypocritical for using the government as a scapegoat, but instead stand for a creative awareness against the claustrophobia of ‘double-think’ and censorship. The ‘panspermia’ represented by the space rock solo of ‘Exogenesis’ explores the process of passive acceptance of civilization’s end through to humanity’s desperation and last hope of survival in colonising other planets, and finally to their acceptance of the unbreakable cycle of an unchanging humanity. By 2012, Muse’s message returned to the introspection of their earlier works whilst retaining a characteristic touch of the ludicrous – the highly distorted bass and custom-made arpeggiated guitar, a reliance upon synthesisers and Bellamy’s distinctive, melismatic falsetto being reminiscent of the album that brought them worldwide renown, Black Holes and Revelations (2006).
Tracing Muse’s eclectic output of music, it is clear that a lot has changed since the melancholic aggression expressed through the heavy rock of Showbiz in 1999. They have all experienced their own personal trials: cancelling a tour following the death of drummer Dom Howard’s father shortly after their set had finished at the Glastonbury Festival in 2004; Bellamy’s engagement to and then separation from Kate Hudson, mother of his four-year-old son; and bassist Chris Wolstenholme checking himself into rehab for alcoholism in 2010, which gave rise to the songs ‘Liquid State’ and ‘Save Me’ on The 2nd Law (2012) album. Their latest offering, Drones, depicts, in Bellamy’s words, a ‘world run by drones utilising drones to turn us all into drones … the journey of a human, from their abandonment and loss of hope, to their indoctrination by the system to be a human drone, to their eventual defection from their oppressors.’ Having travelled along way themselves since the early 90s, Muse have transported listeners from the seashore at Teignmouth to outer space, and in this latest album have returned to Earth, ironically, with their pièce de résistance: a bombastic, dystopian vision that embraces both the past and future and anything in-between.