“The Velvet Revolution”: Grammy-winning UK arena rockers Muse still remain an enigma

By on September 11, 2019

Muse have just announced they will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of their debut LP Showbiz with a mammoth box set, so we thought it’d be a good time to recommend checking out Muse: Under Review, now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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Legendary producer Rick Rubin once said they were possibly “the next Beatles,” and although that didn’t quite pan out, Muse did seem to arrive on the UK’s rock scene when everyone was looking for something new to fill the gap left by the late ’90s implosion of Britpop bands like Blur, Oasis, Suede and other NME cover darlings.

Right from the jump, Muse hinted the possibilities of releasing self-indulgent naval-gazing art rock explorations while never seeming as eager to disappear up their own arseholes like Radiohead, Coldplay and so many other Brit bands had done after first charting in the UK with perfectly good pop songs.

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From the late ’90s onward, Muse became one of the biggest touring acts in the world, traversing the globe with U2 and other major acts before eventually headlining their own massive worldwide campaigns.

During their more than twenty-five year career, they’ve enjoyed six #1 UK pop chart hits, and sold over twenty million albums worldwide.

If you count compilation albums, they’ve had at least nine Top Ten albums, including five consecutive #1 albums in the UK (their first U.S. #1 album would come with 2016’s Mutt Lange-produced Drones).

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They’ve won two Grammys thus far — they’re actually one of five musical acts to win the Grammy for Best Rock Album multiple times — and they’ve racked up shitloads of other shiny awards, plaques and trophies, including two Brit Awards, five MTV Europe Music Awards and eight NME Awards.

Despite all this, and more, to much of the music world Muse continue to remain an enigma, which is why we’re suggesting you check out this somewhat-dated documentary, which provides a crucial in-depth look at their career, everything you’d need to know to get caught up, at least to the year 2010.

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Here’s what is says on the back of that DVD (subsequently re-released with a new title in 2013, Muse: The Velvet Revolution):

“What turns a good band into a great one is usually just the right mix of downright dedication, damned hard work and a special kind of talent which allows for the creation of music that will touch multiple generations.”

“This is certainly the ingredient list which Muse have employed while creating a sound and image that has captured a fan-base larger than that of just about anyone else around at the moment.”

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“This film looks at Muse’s entire career, and by using rare performance and interview footage of the band, contributions from their closest colleagues and from those who have witnessed and written about their journey, plus seldom seen photos, news reports, scene shoots and a range of other features, creates the finest documentary to date on this extraordinary band, the music they make and the lives they lead.”

“Includes exclusive interviews with former manager Safta Jaffrey, legendary producer John Leckie, band engineer Ric Peet, video director Mat Kirby, official biographer and NME writer Mark Beaumont and many other close confidantes.”

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Read more about Muse below.

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Muse — Matt Bellamy (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), Chris Wolstenholme (bass guitar, backing vocals), and Dominic Howard (drums) — formed in the early ’90s in Teignmouth, a pretty seaside town on the north bank of the River Teign in south Devon, England.

The bandmates met at Teignmouth Community College, and at first were all playing in separate bands. Bellamy auditioned for Howard’s band, and together they asked Wolstenholme to join as their bassist.

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They went through a number of name changes, and after calling themselves Gothic Plague, College Mayhem, Fixed Penalty and Rocket Baby Dolls they eventually decided on the name Muses, inspired by something Bellamy’s art teacher, Samuel Theoun, had said during one of his lectures.

It was later shortened to Muse, circa 1994.

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Their popularity grew rapidly after playing all over England, but their first real breakthrough didn’t come until May 1998 with the release of a self-titled EP.

The songs were recorded at Dennis Smith’s Sawmill Studios. Smith — who’d discovered them at a show in Cornwall — owned a production company and record label, Dangerous, with Safta Jafery, the band’s future manager.

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Muse released a second EP on Dangerous, and on Christmas Eve 1998 they signed a recording deal with Madonna’s U.S. label, Maverick Records, who issued their first full-length album, Showbiz, in 1999, the same year they also performed at Woodstock ’99.

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Their next album, Origins of Symmetry (2001), wasn’t released in America until 2005.

After Maverick asked Bellamy to re-record his falsetto vocals, which they felt were not “radio friendly,” Muse refused and dumped Maverick Records for Warner Bros.

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Over the next half-dozen years, beginning with their third album, Absolution (2003), Muse would become a global phenomenon, especially after playing England’s Glastonbury Festival (Bellamy called it “the best gig of our lives“) on June 27, 2004.

By the time Black Holes and Revelations was released (July 3, 2006) Muse were a major touring arena rock outfit, the first band to sell out London’s newly-rebuilt Wembley Stadium in 2007.

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Their fifth album, 2009’s The Resistance, reached #1 in the UK, and #3 on the U.S. Billboard 200 album chart, and gave the band their first Grammy, for Best Rock Album, in 2011.

You’ll have to learn about the band’s post-2010 career elsewhere, but this doc will help fill in the gaps on why Muse remain an enigma.

Watch Muse: Under Review on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.