For all their hard-won stature, Muse are, in mainstream pop media terms, the band that rose without trace – and that’s the way they like it. ‘I’m still really surprised,’ says Bellamy about the band’s decade-plus of ever-increasing success. ‘We haven’t had massive hits, so it is based on something other than radio play.’
But, on the singles side, Bellamy’s point is well supported by the statistics. Since Sunburn, from that first album, they’ve hit the UK top 40 on 20 occasions – but only four Muse singles have reached the top ten, and only one of those, Supermassive Black Hole, stayed there more than a week.
‘There’s a part of me that’s glad we don’t have any one song that overshadows everything else,’ says Bellamy. ‘Some bands have that and they start to get weird about that song. There’s a few key songs we play live, but it’s not like they were massive hits.
‘When people think of our band, I don’t think they think of aparticular song, they think of something else like a general sense of the music. Sometimes after a big hit, everything seems like a comedown, and that can affect a band’s creativity.
‘On the last US tour, there were certain songs we started not to play for the first time, like Newborn and occasionally Stockholm Syndrome, songs we’ve probably played at every gig since they’ve been released. It’s getting to that point now where you’ve got to just start making choices, so you start to veer towards creating sets where you care more about the mood and the flow, rather than specific songs.’
Early in their journey, I recall watching Muse in the relatively modest, sleepy Surrey environs of the Guildford Festival (now Guilfest), and specifically thinking that this was a stadium band of the future. So there was a certain sense of completion about them playing not one but two dates at Wembley Stadium in September, and flying a giant UFO over the crowd. As one does.
Matt Bellamy says that a focus on playing their expansive rock in the biggest settings possible was always paramount, and the music had the same sense of ambition. ‘Some of our songs on the early albums were definitely reaching above the concerts we were playing,’ he says. ‘So, weirdly enough, some of them work better now than they did in those earlier venues. They were going for the big arena-type feel when we were still playing in theatres.
Really, we just filter out the songs that don’t work in the big environment, like Unintended on the first album would work really well in a club setting, but it doesn’t always translate that well in the big venues.’
And news just in: Muse still haven’t finished expanding. ‘There are still songs that, even at the biggest gigs, feel as if they’re reaching a bit further than that,’ says Bellamy. ‘Take A Bow [from Black Holes] has been hit and miss – when it works, it always seems to be in a bigger setting. But if you play it in a small venue,it’s really bad!’ He laughs. ‘It just comes across as way too theatrical and over-reaching.’
>Read more in part three<