There was always going to be trouble. From the very moment the album trailer for ‘The 2nd Law’ dropped back in June, there were murmurs and some not-so-restrained yelps at the prospect of Muse, the Noughties answer to Freddie Mercury, Depeche Mode and pre-2000s U2, forgetting their roots, their classical idiosyncrasies and 7′ long rock operas and instead embracing the very genre against whose attack on the mainstream they were one of the last bastions of defence – dubstep. Featuring an angry looking robot and a thwomping bass line suggesting that Skrillex had gotten his hands on their unmastered sixth studio album and had his way with it, the release of ‘Unsustainable‘ didn’t do much to quell fears. Could the unthinkable true? Had one of the most powerful rock bands of the modern era – breaking down genre demarcations with the force of their soaring piano trills, thrashing guitars, electronic leanings – finally have given over to the unstoppable current of electronic dance music sweeping the globe, letting it drown them in its crushing uniformity?
No, Matthew Bellamy took to Twitter to emphatically state, this would not be Muse going Above and Beyond. The heavy-hitting, suitably operatic theme song to the London Olympics ‘Survival‘ seemed not only to be a joke of a track but, moreover, an affirmation of the fact that the forthcoming album wouldn’t be all ‘Unsustainable’ noise. Instead, Bellamy held, ’2nd Order’ would be a “christian gangsta rap jazz odyssey, with some ambient rebellious dubstep and face melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia.” The variety in that list suggests that it might well have been a tease but at the same time, Muse have now expanded to such a size, filling a gap left by so many bands of yesteryear, that the scope of their ambition is beyond reproach. If Bellamy and co are really digging flamenco cowboy psychedelia, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’ll be the pioneers of the trend, partner. Accordingly, I don’t really see the uproar around the dubstep cues of ‘Unsustainable’ as legitimate. With an immutable sense of musical tradition in the genre, if even hip-hoppers – from B.o.B. to Lupe Fiasco – can get on the Skream and Benga gravy train, why shouldn’t one of the world’s biggest bands, whose modus operandi is bending conventions, have a go?
I’ve just noticed that my last two paragraphs both end with a question mark and that is telling. While I didn’t have an objection to Bellamy and the boys trying dubstep on for size, serious question marks remained over just how well the lasers-projectors-smoke-machines-and-thwomp glove would fit. With ‘Madness’, Muse answer the doubters with what is initially a subdued but ultimately a compelling, unsurprisingly explosive response. Having toured the track around the OAD Haus this afternoon, the reactions range from Sister Z in near tears (‘What is this techno shit? This isn’t Muse!’) to the slightly more considered Brother J (‘if you take away the bass, this is just 80s synth pop’). The reality of the track might be somewhere in between. Where the unnecessarily sexy George Michael-esque vocals hardly carry the piece for almost 3′ until we get some semblance of guitar, this is not Muse. The lyricism and industrial-segueing-to-inevitably-rhapsodic sound have Human League and, ironically, early-era U2 written all over them. More essentially still, this is Muse taking you out of your comfort zone, slowly, gradually, and trying something a bit different. It may not be what we expect but when it comes to M-M-M-M-Muse, expectations are a moot point.
Muse – Madness