The British rock group Muse has garnered both critical and popular success since their explosive entrance onto the musical scene in the late 1990s. Fronted by Matthew Bellamy, the trio also includes Chris Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard. Frequently compared to the emotional and angst-ridden work of Radiohead, Muse’s debut album Showbiz was produced by John Leckie, who also produced Radiohead’s The Bends. While early reviewers noted the obvious comparison to Radiohead, Muse has emerged as a powerful band in its own right, gaining recognition for their outrageous live performances that mix dynamic showmanship and lyric bravado.
The group formed in the early 1990s in the small southern coastal town of Teignmouth, England. In response to the safe, if boring and limited life of their small town, the trio first came together when they were 13 years old, playing indie cover tunes under the name Gothic Plague. They later renamed themselves Fixed Penalty, and then Rocket Baby Dolls. The band turned to American music in response to the Britpop movement that left them flat. Their devotion to such bands as Primus, the Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, and Radiohead inspired their own developing sound.
When the band members were 15 they entered a local battle of the bands contest intending to shock their audience with over-the-top makeup and gear-smashing antics onstage. The real shock came, however, when the band, then known as Rocket Baby Dolls, won the contest, which motivated the band members to take their work more seriously. Bellamy admits that at the time the other bands were much tighter musically, but it was their passionate attitude in performance that made a difference.
In 1997 Bellamy settled on the name Muse after hearing a medium say, as he recalled in a biography on the Mushroom Records website, that “you could summon up muses when you were at a very spiritual point in your life. And … well, I suppose I summoned up this band.” It was at this point that the band adopted a higher level of focus. Drummer Dominic Howard stated in an ARTISTdirect biography, “Music became more than just a way out. It became a passion and a way for us to express ourselves.”
The group released two EPs on Dangerous Records in the late 1990s, Muse and Muscle Museum. It was their pumped-up performance at the CMJ Music Festival in 1998 in New York City, however, that propelled them to the attention of executives from Madonna’s Maverick label. Muse was signed in 1998 with Leckie as producer, and they began a fruitful collaboration in which the band learned to recreate the frenzied work of their live performances in the studio. According to Adrianne Stone of Rolling Stone, Leckie also encouraged the band “to experiment with Wurlitzers and Mellotrons when recording.” Chris Wolstenholme told Stone,
Members include Matthew Bellamy (born in Cambridge, England), guitar, vocals, piano; Dominic Howard (born in Rotherham, England), drums; Chris Wolstenholme (born in Manchester, England), bass guitar.
Group formed in Teignmouth, Devon, England, as Gothic Plague, early 1990s; changed name to Fixed Penalty, Rocket Baby Dolls, and finally Muse, 1997; released debut EP Muse on Dangerous Records, 1998; released second EP, Muscle Museum, on Dangerous, 1999; appeared in New York City at CMJ Music Festival, 1998; signed with Maverick Records, 1998; released Showbiz, 1999; toured with Foo Fighters and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 2000; released Origin of Symmetry, 2001; released the soundtrack Hullabaloo, 2002.
Awards: New Musical Express (NME) Carling Premier Award, Best New Band, 2000; Kerrang! Award, Best British Live Act, 2002.
Addresses: Record company —Mushroom Records, 1 Shorrolds Rd., London SW6 7TR, England. Website-Muse Official Website: http://www.muse-official.com.
“[Leckie] taught us the importance of getting a really good live performance sound in the studio. When you go into the studio, you don’t have 10,000 watts of P.A. blasting in your face. You’re playing into a dead room. So you’ve got to put the energy in there somehow and being able to fiddle around with things makes the difference.” Shortly after signing with Maverick, Muse also inked deals with European labels, including Motor in Germany, Naïve in France, and Mushroom Records in the United Kingdom.
With the release of Showbiz, Muse achieved word-of-mouth worldwide recognition resulting mainly from their visceral live performances. Their debut album attracted the attention of both fans and critics, with few middle-of-the-road responses. Nearly every critic drew comparisons to Radiohead, most of them favorably. Sean Price wrote in Melody Maker, “[Muse] will genuinely move you. They will make you feel almost uncomfortable when exposed to the naked emotion and raw sincerity that pumps through the 80 or so songs they’ve already stockpiled.” Another reviewer noted in College Media, “While it’s impossible to refute that comparison [to Radiohead], it’s tough to resist Showbiz, on which Muse builds its own brooding foundation to support its soaring, scorched passions and dark emotional subtexts.”
Although some critics merely found the over-the-top bombastic output laughable, there was no denying that the band connected with its audience. Reviewing a live performance, Stephen Dalton wrote in the Times, “The savage energy of their delivery, squeezing operatic hyperbole and hormone-crazed passion into three-minute rock symphonies, clearly connected on some primal level with the teens and early twentysomethings who danced and screamed along to every other song.” Already wildly popular in Europe, especially France, the band’s international appeal increased after they toured the United States with Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2000.
If response to their first album bordered on love it or hate it, reaction to their second album, Origin of Symmetry, was even more polarized. Many noted the band’s effort to come out from under the shadow of Radiohead, yet compared songs on the second album to the operatic quality of 1970s rockers Queen. One reviewer quipped that there is a similarity between Bellamy’s onstage solo excesses to that of Nigel Tufnell in This Is Spinal Tap. On the other hand, unabashedly endorsing the band, a review by James Malone of the Where’s the Craic music website gushed, “[Origin of Symmetry is] fresh, creative, operatic, passionate, innovative and da** f***ing loud. As you can see we love it and make no apologies for it.”
The classical quality of their music derived from the influences of Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, whom Bellamy referenced in an article about the band’s tour to Russia. In response to comparisons to Queen, Bellamy maintained, ‘The things we have in common with Queen are the things I’m really proud of…. We have a big sound, and we’re not afraid to put on a show.”
Following the prolific output of their early career, Muse showed no signs of slowing down. In 2002 they released the DVD soundtrack Hullabaloo, including 18 live songs from their show at the Paris Zenith as well as documentary footage of the band on tour. Just as the band was sliding into a heavy rock groove, they were ready to switch gears again. When he spoke with New Musical Express (NME), Bellamy maintained that their upcoming album contains some “uplifting” songs, remarking, “The stuff we’re going to do on this album is going to surprise a lot of people…. We’ve been writing loads of songs. A lot of the new songs are going in a different direction to what we’ve done before.”
Muse (EP), Dangerous, 1998.
Muscle Museum (EP), Dangerous, 1999.
Showbiz, Mushroom, 1999.
Origin of Symmetry, Mushroom, 2001.
Hullabaloo (soundtrack), Mushroom, 2002.
Boston Phoenix, October 18, 1999.
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Evening Standard (London, England), November 7, 2001, p. 28,
Guardian (London, England), April 9, 2001, p. 16; June 14, 2002, p. 29.
Melody Maker, June 26, 1999.
NME (London, England), February 2, 2000; April 4, 2002; April 9, 2002.
Rolling Stone, September 29, 1999; October 1, 1999; October 14, 1999.
Select Magazine, November 1999.
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Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland), November 11, 2001, p. 24.
TDB Magazine, June 1999.
Times (London, England), April 20, 2001, p. 11; November 20, 2001, p. 20.
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Muse Official Website, http://www.muse-official.com (September 24, 2002).
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muse / myoōz/ • v. [intr.] be absorbed in thought: he was musing on the problems he faced. ∎ [with direct speech] say to oneself in a thoughtful manner: “I think I've seen him somewhere before,” mused Rachel. ∎ (muse on) gaze thoughtfully at. • n. dated an instance or period of reflection. DERIVATIVES: mus·ing·ly adv.
Muse / myoōz/ • n. (in Greek and Roman mythology) each of nine goddesses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who preside over the arts and sciences. ∎ (muse) a woman, or a force personified as a woman, who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.