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Performing Both Weekends

They will not force us

They will not degrade us

We will be victorious…

(Uprising)

So says Muse’s next single, ‘Uprising’, the first to be taken from their fifth studio album ‘The Resistance’. Released on 14th September 2009, ‘The Resistance’ was recorded in Northern Italy over the course of the last year and was produced by the band themselves, and mixed by Mark ‘Spike’ Stent. ‘Uprising’ is released one week earlier and the band tours through the UK in November. Naturally, every ticket sold out within minutes of release.

That’s the basics: what you need to know. What you will be asking is… where will Muse take us with this new album? Does ‘The Resistance’ mark a departure from their previous epic releases ‘Absolution’ (2003) and ‘Black Holes and Revelations’ (2006)? Or does it form a triptych with these challenging, thoughtful, super-massive albums?

In some sense, Muse do both. In terms of sound and sonic vision ‘The Resistance’ is their most ambitious long-player yet, which is clearly saying something. They have blown up the robo-funk/monster riff/stadium space rock sound of ‘Black Holes’ and widened their viewfinder even further to take in an even greater horizon of sound. For Muse, reverting to a successful template would be simply meaningless.

As singer-guitarist Matt Bellamy told Mojo magazine recently, “There are some tracks that really take an influence from contemporary R&B, particularly [the producer] Timbaland – heavy beats, syncopation, very melodic, rhythmic vocals. Dom [Howard - drummer] has done all the drum programming. By the end the album’s almost purely classical in style. It’s not orchestration you’d normally expect from a rock band and we’ve done all the arranging and scoring. We’ve just been in Milan doing the orchestral recording with about 40 musicians – great players and really up for experimentation.” Matt is talking here about ‘Exogenesis’ – a symphony in three parts: surely their most ambitious, impressive statement yet.

The privileged few to have peeked behind the curtain as Muse rehearse for their sold out UK tour reveal new songs that sound simply ‘enormous’. However, lest we get carried away by the bombast cliché that is all too easy to pin to this band, there are again moments of delicate, slight beauty. Evidence ‘I Belong To You’ where Bellamy sings “I travelled half the world just to say I belong to you…” Matt continues: “‘Undisclosed Desires’ is the first song we’ve written where I don’t play guitar or piano.” Furthermore, it is an unlikely setting for slap bass courtesy of Chris Wolstenholme, “But on that song it just seemed to work, so we kept it in,” he declares.

It is perhaps in the content of Matt’s lyrics that ‘The Resistance’ joins up the dots with the previous two albums. ‘MK Ultra’ continues themes introduced in songs like ‘Ruled By Secrecy’ (‘Absolution’). It may or may not tackle a covert 1950′s CIA mind-control and chemical interrogation research program – depending on who is reading this. Elsewhere, ‘United States of Eurasia’ is informed by the writing of Polish-born Zbigniew Brzezinski advisor to former US President Jimmy Carter. In his book, The Grand Chessboard, “Brzezinski has the viewpoint that the Eurasian landmass (Europe, Asia and the Middle East) needs to be controlled by America to secure the oil supply.” Matt continues, “He talks very matter-of-factly about seeing the world as a chessboard. That combined with the obvious Orwellian reference to the state of Eurasia from 1984, inspire the words on that song.”

The peculiar violence of the modern era, so effectively addressed in songs like ‘Assassin’ (‘Black Holes’) and hit single ‘Time is Running Out’ (‘Absolution’) returns in ‘Uprising’. Herewith thugs in one guise are imagined railing against thugs in another: “It’s meant to be football hooligans chanting in protest at the banking situation!” says Matt.

Tellingly, this is Muse’s first foray into self-production. It has seen them develop their own particular brand of democracy to settle difference. “Because we didn’t have a producer, we had to resolve all the discussions about the music ourselves.” Dom told the NME recently. ”So if two people were having a disagreement, it was up to the other person to solve it!” Furthermore, the band were under no pressure of deadlines. “We had unlimited time to work on it, which made it much better for us.” However, a little faith between these childhood friends was still necessary to see the ‘Exogenesis’ symphony through to its conclusion. Says its author Matt: “I had to get the other two to trust me a bit with that one. But I think it’s turned out amazing,” (it has).

Preparing to launch their latest juggernaut of a tour on the world’s stage, readying the music world for the album event of the year, Muse are asking critical questions of what it means to be a band in these times, of what it means even to be a citizen in these times. However, the most important question Muse ask follows. Momentous, questing, ambitious: when it comes to defining the times with their blueprint of largesse, instead of asking “why?” Muse ask “Why not?”

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