Preview: Muse, 2007

Lyrically musing on what’s wrong with the world

The great thing about being a teenager, or even a 'twentager,' is that you think anything is possible. The World seems vast and complex and its vistas infinitely varied. It is therefore surprising that so many young rock bands choose to sing about a depressingly narrow range of subjects. A good example of this is Britain's much adored Arctic Monkeys, whose songs revolve around such mundane matters as bouncers, fancying girls in nightclubs, and kitchen sink rows in Sheffield council houses.

In contrast to this narrow focus, Muse, the 3-member rock band formed in Devon in 1992, have been loading their lyrics with references to everything from aliens and the apocalypse, to conspiracy theories and higher dimensions, over a four-album career, including last year's powerful Black Holes and Revelations, which they tour to Japan next month.

As a corollary of their lyrical variety, they have also evolved a musical style that seems to throw in everything but the kitchen sink, with classical flourishes, and George-Michael-style bump-n-grind, jostling with operatic falsetto, electro shuffle, and heavy metal riffs. One might well ask, what the heck is going on here?

Despite or possibly because of such musical eclecticism the band keeps winning increasing respect. On November 2 last year, Muse won the Best Alternate and Best Live Act awards at the 2006 MTV European Music Video Awards in Copenhagen. Later when the Killers picked up the award for Best Rock award, singer Brandon Flowers paid deference by claiming it rightfully belonged to Muse.

So, why is Muse making such an impact? Part of the reason is sheer talent and musical dexterity. But, more important than this, Muse is one of the few bands in the World that are driven by something more powerful than the easily fulfilled rock star need for adulation. For singer and guitarist Matthew Bellamy and his cohorts – drummer Dominic Howard and bassist and Keyboardist Chris Wolstenholme – it’s all about having an agenda, believing in something bigger and more compelling than themselves, in having a vital message to get out before it’s too late.

Muse is a band that thinks there’s something definitely wrong with the way of the World.

"I see the only thing to do is to build some Molotov cocktails and start bunging them at fucking MPs," he told Britain’s NME in November 2006, suggesting that it was time to start a civil war against the powers that be. The lyrics of Black Holes and Revelations also reek of a similar desperate aggression or punkish paranoia. On opening track Take a Bow Bellamy mockingly congratulates a shadowy ruling elite on corrupting and ruining the World. "Our freedom’s consuming itself/ what we’ve become is contrary to what we want," he wails over a frantic electronic riff.

In the interview with NME, Bellamy also mocked the official story of 9-11.

"The evidence they did use was laughable. The plane's black box that keeps all the information – that melted. But apparently a passport with one of the hijacker's names flew out of the window and landed on the ground. That’s laughable."

Such concerns have seen the band dismissed as conspiracy nuts, or criticized as overblown, bombastic gloom mongers, nerdishly obsessed with a parallel sci-fi reality. A bit like pessimistic Trekkies. This would be fair comment, except that the lyrics are ambiguous enough to allow various interpretations. For example, the words of the pulsating Supermassive Black Hole could equally be about the delicate fabric of the universe and the environment or about obsessive love. The glittering, synth-driven pop of Map of the Problematique captures a mood that is both panicky and ecstatic.

Bellamy's endorsement of some of the more harebrained conspiracy theories of David Icke, regarding mass mind control and reptilian aliens – including the allegation that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II may be one – make Muse an easy target for critics. But if this is madness, it is also a madness that helps generate and sustain the artistic and musical energy that a hardworking and creative rock band need to keep on producing and putting on spellbinding shows.

"Let’s conspire to ignite all the souls that would die just to feel alive," Bellamy sings on the optimistic and anthemic Starlight. Who knows how long the 'alien lizard people' will allow him to preach this message?

International Herald Tribune Asahi Shimbun
2nd February, 2007
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