NME 2009-07-22 – New album preview

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Front cover
Matthew Bellamy reading this issue

An article in the 2009-07-22 issue of NME magazine, spanning pages 23–25, covering The Resistance.


Some words to describe Lake Como Lombardy, northern Italy: tranquil peaceful, serene, total fucking parad... Actually scratch that: here are some words written by one Percy Bysshe Shelley, about the very same place. ‘It exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty. It is long and narrow, and has the appearance of a mighty river winding among the mountains and the forests’. (Always did have a way with words that lad). Above, dotted around one of the largest, deepest lakes in all of Europe, are some of the most incredible houses you could ever wish to see. George Clooney owns one, which he lent to David Beckham earlier this year. In another one, James Bond recuperated (and of course got laid) in Casino Royale, while in another, Darth Vader – Anakin to his ma – tied to knot to his childhood sweetheart in secret. Oh yeah, and in another, but a short journey from the studio where he and his band have just finished recording their fifth album, lives a boy named Matt Bellamy.
Some words to describe ‘The Resistance’, Muse’s fifth , first post-Wembley shaking album, off the back of one very loud playback through said studio’s mixing desk: romantic, yet awash with 21st-century-claustrophibia – a record with things on its mind. Opener ‘Uprising’ finds Matt singing, over a Marilyn Manson – style electro-glam stomp, of how ‘paranoia is in control’ and how ‘the fat cats should have a heart attack’ and how ‘they push drugs to keep us all confined’. In fact, the same ‘they’ recur on the second, title track – Matt wondering whether ‘they’ will ‘Find our hiding place’ and opining, over tribal drums and piano melody in style of ‘Starlight’, that ‘they’ also ‘won’t stop bringing us down ‘. Elsewhere, there is talk of how ‘you and me fall in line/to be punished for unproven crimes’ (United States of Eurasia), and how ‘you learn by the numbers/ Losing life’s wonder’ (Guiding Light) and, most explicitly of all, how this young Lake Como resident wants to ‘push it beyond a peaceful protest’ so he can ‘speak in a language that ‘they’ – ‘they’ again – will understand’ (Unnatural Selection). ‘MK Ultra’s spidery riff is topped by talk of ‘replacing love and happiness with fear’, and the closing ‘Exogenesis: Symphony’ – which, over the three parts, clocks in at over 12 minutes – similarly paints a picture, over classical strings recorded in Milan, of ‘the edge of all our fears’. A scary placed then that world outside the window.
‘Watching the news has been a major influence on this album’ Matt Bellamy admits, sat upstairs in the lounge area after our playback. ‘You know, just brainwashing myself with BBC news, and also realising how much brainwashing is actually coming out of that stuff. There’s definitely a feeling of wanting change in England, of how everything’s just going old-fashioned. That was all going off in the making of this album. I think in England itself people are have woken up to the fact that we don’t have a democracy anymore and our parliamentary system is completely out of date and the news media is particularly screwed. Having lived in England for the past five or ten years has been quite an experience because we feel like we are totally powerless; I have noticed it more so than other countries. The whole banking crisis has been very bad in England, and the whole MP thing, and also that we’ve been taken to a war that we don’t agree with on the coat-tails of the USA. There’s a feeling about being English in the past few years of, ‘Fucking hell, we don’t have any control over our lives’.’
And yeah, yeah he doesn’t currently live in England. But...
‘It comes from a person who feels English at heart, who’s not in England and is almost over-b brainwashing themselves with news from England, because they feel like they’re losing touch with it. At the same time that gives you an objective view to what’s actually going on there’.
Does he perhaps feel a duty, as a rock’n’roll star, to reflect all of this?
‘No I don’t feel a duty, not even compelled. I was just interested in that stuff, and the music reflects who the people making it are. If I was more interested in doing other things and has a complexly different lifestyle, I’m sure that would come out in the music. It depends on how you take it. You can take it in a light way if you want to. Like, every time the vocals kick in in ‘United States of Eurasia’, it just makes me fucking laugh every time, because it’s so outrageous, like a scene from Highlander, so for me that’s very funny. And there’s other bits, like the glam-rock beat In ‘Uprising’. To me, there’s a light side to the band, which is on there. Of course there’s some heavy stuff in there as well, but I like to think that we mix it up enough to not make people come away feeling jaded. I want people to come way feeling excited and driven’.
But there definably seem to be quite a few recurring themes like fear, alienation and that kind of stuff – you mention ‘the thought police’. There’s that line in Unnatural Selection where you sing of ‘pushing it beyond peaceful protest’...
‘Yeah. That’s the edgiest moment regarding resistance – how are we going to make a change? I think I’ve put forward the idea in the album that love and peaceful protest is ultimately the best way, but you can’t help thinking that sometimes it’s not enough; there’s a fine line, and I’m treading that fine line. You could bury yourself in the idea of your girlfriend or someone you love and forget about everything else, or you could use it as a method of protesting – in the Gandhi sense that peaceful resistance is the best form of resistance. But then there’s the idea that kicking a few shop windows in helps as well! The album is teetering between all those different versions of resistance’.
Ask the other two members of Muse – Matt, Dom and Chris are all to be interviewed separately today – how they feel about this politicised direction, and they are inclined not to interfere with their singer’s vision. ‘With all the lyrics and stuff, me Dom don’t really get involved,’ says Chris Wolstenholme the tall, affable bass player. ‘Usually the first time I hear lyrics is when Matt comes in and says’ Are you ready to do the backing vocals?’ But it’s not really something me and Dom have ever got involved in, ‘cos it’s quite a personal thing and it’s the one thing I feel like no-one else has got the right to comment on. When it comes to guitar parts, bass parts, drum parts, then everyone’s very open to putting forward ideas as to how we should be playing things, but when it comes to lyrics it’s a totally different thing altogether and it’s something I’ve always left Matt to’.
Dominic Howard, happy affable drummer, agrees: ‘A lot of things that Matt’s singing about are things that we were generally talking about over the course of the album anyway. But I and Chris never really hear the lyrics. Or really a lot of the singing at all. I mean , sometimes we do some loose ideas, but since we started the band, like 16 years ago or something, we’ve never done a rehearsal with Matt singing. We only ever hear him sing when we do a show or record a piece of music. So it’s all kind of new, you know?
One thing they will all happily enthuse about, at length, is The Music. This being Muse (and Muse without a producer no less) it was going to be over the top. But ‘The Resistance’ is without question even bigger, even more massive and over-the-top than anything they’ve done previously.
‘This album reminds me of ‘Origin of Symmetry’ in a way because ‘Origin’ was where we really let ourselves go without any fear,’ Matt offers. ‘I think we’ve done the same on this album, It’s something we needed to do and it was good working without a producer because we thought we’d run into problems. We did have a lot of problems fights and arguments, among the band but we made decisions really quick; we’re more decisive than we were on the last album’.
‘There’s no range when we’re in the studio, no range holding us back particularly not having a producer,’ continues Dom. ‘We just let ourselves go. We’ve never felt like we’ve had any boundaries, so sometimes when we do something a bit complex or a bit weird or a bit funny or a bit over the top its always made us go ‘Ha, ha, ha that’s quite good, isn’t it? That quite funny!’ But we’ve never, like wanted to pull back there’s no reason we should have any restrictions or we don’t feel that way, anyway’.
‘We always like to push things to the limit’ concurs Chris, initially at least. ‘But sometimes when we’re in the studio, things go so far that we kind of have to pull them back a little bit. It is easy to go too far sometimes and just make everything seem like a joke. But then I think it’s nice to have things like that every now and again because it makes people realise that we’re not deadly serious all the time. I think there’s that misconception with us that everyone thinks we’re really serious and sit around talking politics and the state of the world every day. And we don’t. We’re aware of and it upsets us, but we’re not like people that as people and I think when people the album some of the lyrics are quite serious but bits of it are more tongue-in-cheek. And some of them do make you laugh quite a bit.’
Certainly, there are funny, quite gloriously over-the-top bits. The layered ‘I want to ride my bicycle’ vocals in the bridge of United States of Eurasia’ being something of a peak (Dom: ‘We thought that was too good to take out, so we left it’). Elsewhere though, musical adventure abounds particularly on Undisclosed Desires. ‘That was one of the first songs I’ve ever done when I don’t play anything,’ says Matt. ‘I just sing. Its string samples that have been edited and rhythmically placed with an electronic drumbeat and Chris playing bass. So it’s a song where we all do the opposite of what we normally do. Dom did electric drums instead of acoustic drums, Chris played the most embarrassing style of playing that you can play and I just did nothing. It’s like the anti-Muse song’.
Most astonishing and over-the-top of it all, however is the closing three part Exogenesis Symphony, a classical piece that was put together by Matt over the course of many years, but which he now had the time, given Muse’s own studio set-up, to fully realise.
Chris: ‘You can always just take the band away from tat track and just have the orchestral bit and it would still be beautiful. I just think it’s a stunning piece of music and we’ve never done something like that before, where you’ve got all these songs that are in different movements. The orchestra were the main bit of the song and the band was more of a backdrop. The strings were at the forefront. It fucking astonishing.’
Dom: ‘It’s a real journey that song as well. It’s kind of... you can’t really hear what Matt’s singing in the first part much, but the whole song is about leaving the destructive planet we’ve created, leaving it behind to go populate somewhere else in the universe. So it’s a big journey anyway, it’s a big kind of filmic, visual journey as well.’
And will the world’s most decorated Best Live Band be attempting to replicate this spectacle in stadiums and arenas?
‘Well,’ says Matt. ‘We’ll give it a go!’
Some more words to describe ‘The Resistance’: a gigantic leap forward for a band who many must have felt could not make any more gigantic leaps forward, especially given those two Wembley shows that so felt like some kind of pinnacle. An album that moves into musical pastures new, with forays into both R&B and classical, but which retains the strengths of this most uniquely placed of British bands – the very large riffs, the operatic vocals , the willingness, the unrelenting desire to be more and more overblown and outrageous. A stupid record, that will make everyone that hears it – not least again, the creators – giggle at certain points, but in the way that fun rock records should make you giggle. A political record, albeit one who targets the unspecific – more about planting seeds of unrest in people’s minds than providing any solutions. So, Matthew in your words: is ‘The Resistance’ a concept album?
No, because a concept record implies that you have a pre=planned musical narrative and it wasn’t like that. For me there were pre-planned lyrical anchors that if I was in doubt I could turn to, but it was necessarily a narrative thing.’
But you agree that there are themes running through it?
‘I think if you had to boil it down to one theme, it would be the idea that there’s some sort of romance taking place in this, call it contemporary England, with all the bollocks going on everywhere – you just think to yourself, ‘It’s a bunch of bollocks isn’t it?’. So if I was in doubt as to where to go with certain lyric or song I’d go back to those initial thoughts. Like Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. I read the book when I was at school and I only really took in the political side of it, but I read it again and the romance side moved me – this idea that love was the only place where there was some freedom from all the bollocks. The act of love can be a political act in those kind o scenarios, as the one place where the state can’t invade your privacy. That love story touched me more than the overall political meaning of the book. So I’d say that was one of the cornerstones of the album, really, the love story in that book.’
Some final words about Muse: hopeful, ambitious, self-aware, funny, lovely, lucky people who adore what they do, maybe stating the bleeding obvious sometimes, but stating it louder, prouder and more powerfully than anyone else at present. And with their fifth album, about to get even more massive than they already are doing so.

See also


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