Back in prehistoric times – August of 1962 to be specific – a catchy little instrumental called Telstar was released by a British band called The Tornados. It was named after the internationally developed Telstar satellite which was launched back in those heady “we can accomplish anything in space” ’60’s.
What does this have to do with Muse? Well, the rhythm guitarist in that band was a guy named George Bellamy and he sired a son named Matthew who co-founded Muse back in 1994. (Muse later did a song called Knights of Cydonia, which is considered to be a tribute to “Telstar.”)
As seems to happen so often with British bands, Muse (originally Rocket Baby Dolls) formed as a result of meeting in school. (Teignmouth, Devon, England if you must know.)
Since then, remarkably, they have stayed together with the same members: Bellamy (lead vocalist, guitarist, songwriter); Chris Wolstenholme (bass, keyboards); Dominic Howard (drums.)
As it happens, I stumbled on this really shitty video of them at a Battle of the Bands in the lovely-sounding town of Torquay. (Isn’t this where Fawlty Towers was set?) This video is from 1994 when the guys were, like, 15. As apart from the band, I get no small dose of pleasure out of watching the long-haired head-banging fans.
As to their style of music, Muse list themselves as alternative rock, progressive rock, hard rock, art rock, space rock, electronica. And I confess I was barely aware of them until 2009 when they came out with their album The Resistance, specifically the song “Uprising.” (Gives you some idea of how current I stay with music.)
I’m not 100% sure what exactly the guys were resisting or for that matter protesting, but boy do I love this song. For me it is hands down, no question the best song of that year and would have made a great “fight song” for the North Dakota pipeline movement. (Any perceived resemblance to the Doctor Who theme is, of course, entirely in your head.):
They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious
Muse didn’t really start hitting their stride till the late ’90’s when, after the release of a few EP’s, they wound up performing on the Emerging Artists stage at Woodstock ’99. (This was an interesting ‘changing of the guard’ festival. Elvis Costello got shit thrown at him and one girl said, “I don’t even know who this guy is.”)
The band’s reputation built throughout the new millennium, and in 2006 they released the album Black Holes and Revelations. I feel compelled to quote from Wikipedia on this album: “The band cited influences that included Depeche Mode, Millionaire, Lightning Bolt, Sly and the Family Stone and music from southern Italy.”(!)
It goes on to say the album has “political and science fiction undertones … covering topics as varied as political corruption, alien invasion, revolution and New World Order conspiracies as well as more conventional love songs.” In other words, just your typical rock album with the usual ho-hum influences! 😂
Anyway, I have no idea which category “Supermassive Black Hole” fits into exactly but it’s a terrific song. Eminently more danceable at your next mind-numbing wedding reception than, say, “I Will Survive.” Contrary to the previous tune, Bellamy seems to be channeling both Prince and Michael Jackson:
I’ve never seen and likely will never see Muse live. But I did catch a concert of theirs on one of the cable channels. Looked like a terrific show to me and Bellamy is a pretty over-the-top performer.
“Hysteria,” from 2003’s Absolution, kicks off with a killer bass riff and then a great guitar hook which I literally just found out how to play. These guys get a lot of acclaim for their instrumental prowess, Total Guitar in 2010 calling Bellamy the guitarist of the decade and even the Hendrix of his generation. (I’m not familiar enough with his playing to even pass judgment but that seems a pretty high bar.)
Here they are performing “Hysteria” at Wembley, the chameleonic Bellamy now sounding more like Thom Yorke:
I by no means like everything these guys do. But what I’ve heard and like, I like a lot.
The band has won an absolute boatload of awards, chief among then two Brit awards, 17 NME awards and one Ivor Novello award for songwriting and composing. They have also won two Grammy awards, the most recent in February of this year for the album Drones.
Those of you looking to form your own band called Rocket Baby Dolls will doubtless be disappointed to know that, alas, it’s being used by a Muse tribute band.