So why is a review of Muse showing up on this, an electropop dominated website? They’re not exactly pop but have elements of the same catchy melodies that sit firmly in your brain; not fully electronic but indulge in lush keyboards and symphonic sounds that at times can compete with bands the likes of Visage, Human League and New Order.
Look past the guitars and drums, if dissected and inspected one can find electronic components in just about every Muse song. They themselves have admitted to influences that range from Queen with Matt Bellamy’s obvious singing style and vocal range to Ultravox, both in keyboard melodies of ‘Apocalypse Please’ and the slow yet climatic build up/tear down ‘Butterflies and Hurricanes’ that is so trademark to ‘Vienna’ and ‘Visions in Blue’.
Muse came together in their teens with one intent; to make great music. Guitarist/pianist/singer/songwriter Matt Bellamy, drummer Dominic Howard and bassist Chris Wolstenholme would eventually conquer the UK and Europe with sold out shows at Wembley Stadium and headlining slots at prestigious festivals. In America it wasn’t so easy. Their earlier albums failed to make much of a dent in the music market despite the quality of their contents. It was even suggested for their second album that Matt lessen the falsettos and re-record a song’the band refused!
However, with Warner Brothers signing the band in 2003, slowly their music began to play in underground formats such as collage radio stations. They would eventually grow from club bookings to more impressive ventures that included a 2007 headlining slot at Chicago’s Lollapalooza. But not until the tour backing their fifth album The Resistance would Muse be able to claim world domination. Selling out Chicago’s United Center, a venue bigger than London’s O2 in literally 3 minutes was proof to even the deadpan non-enthusiasts that Muse’s time in America had finally arrived.
My main influences in music contain all the synth greats: OMD, Depeche Mode, Blancmange, yet I also have an ear for many more musical realms, Muse seeming to fall into one of those. But in reality, this wasn’t going to just be a rock concert but a celebration of the collision of sound, the fuse of old with new, all the sounds I grew up with plus more.
Before Muse even set foot on stage there was an obvious excitement in the air. Known for their brilliant stage shows, the stakes were high that night so how were they ever going to match the spectacle of their last tour, let alone top it? Very easily, or at least that’s how they made it appear.
Three tall ‘skyscrapers’ stood ominously on the stage. Images of white male figures came out and began to ascend up a staircase that was being projected onto the skyscrapers. One after another, white men climbed, perhaps symbolic of Muse’s struggle to make it to the top in America? But if so, then the conclusion which was to see man after man eventually fall down the staircase must be the crumble of the critics and doubters. Cloth coverings also fell to reveal Matt, Dominic and Chris, all standing high in their own scraper letting lose into ‘Uprising’, a song that right away displays their attachment to the electronic world with it’s eerie synth melody conjuring up images of old black and white horror movies. The roar of the crowd became deafening as green lasers cut the air.
Their set list consisted of both new material and older songs that encompassed all but their first album. Matt had a superstar air to him that was, in a lesser sense, Dave Gahan-like. Dominic played his drums with the exuberance of a 10-year-old all the while riding his merry-go-round of a platform, and Chris stood tall, calm, casually pumping his head up and down to the beat.
But if all these electronic components mentioned earlier are in Muse, how then were they projected if a keyboard isn’t a main ingredient of the founding members? Behind the scenes was the mystery man Morgan Nicholls, a knob turning, key punching electrician who produces the beloved clinks, pings and ‘whamphs’ that electropop is so well known for.
And they were often in full force. Moments like ‘Starlight’, with its beautifully simplistic melody that one can argue calls out OMD, were matched by others such as ‘New Born’ and ‘United States of Eurasia’ which found Matt rise up in the scraper to play his brightly illuminated grand piano with the mastery of a man having years of classical training. And it was at these moments one can imagine the 31 year old listening back in the day to Joy Division or Duran Duran.
The light show, choked full of lasers, strobe lights and various videos displayed onto the scrapers added to the already heart-pounding urgency exuberated from hits like ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Map of the Problematique’ which with its ‘Enjoy The Silence’ lines would give any electro-induced rave a run for its money. Even a bit of humour was displayed when, let loose from the dizzying height of the third balcony, big eye ‘balls’ were released during ‘Plug In Baby’. There was no doubt who was in control here.
Muse had definitely risen to the occasion, did the unthinkable and raised the bar yet another notch in the ‘mind-blowing show’ category. It was without a doubt a night to remember and a vision one won’t be getting the pleasure to experience again anytime soon. It’s been said, and without a question, shown that there is a recent resurge in the electronic music camp. So to know that a stadium act like Muse was impacted, and in essence, continues to play with the same knobs, the same technologies that legends like Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys as well as newcomers like La Roux and Little Boots proves they belong with the rest of the greats that The Electricity Club prides itself in indulging.
Consider them the ‘combo package’, the best of both worlds.
by Lori Tarchala
5th May 2010
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.