The sun is shining over an unidentified lush English garden. It’s a few hours since the last firework lit up London’s Olympic Stadium, and a selection of the closing ceremony’s stars – three of the Spice Girls, a Gallagher, and Muse drummer Dominic Howard – are huddled together pulling shapes for the camera, all with good reason to celebrate. That’s the scene set by Emma Bunton, aka Baby Spice, in a photo posted on Twitter the day before my interview with Dominic. Muse, of course, performed the official London Olympics theme Survival at the ceremony – a track that features on The 2nd Law, the band’s sixth studio album. Still picking up the pieces from the day before, Dominic discusses the album’s fusion of the electronic and organic, as well as issuing a challenge to laptop-based musicians.
“It’s fading. It’s still there slightly, but it’s definitely fading. Yesterday it was pretty bad. It was a bit of a late night,” Dominic assesses his hangover with coy understatement. “It was a bizarre night. It got more and more surreal as the night went on. Then the morning turned up.”
With The 2nd Law, Muse have once again pushed themselves into uncharted musical territories. With an omnivorous approach to genre, the triumvirate have blended disparate elements with an aplomb that suggests near-infallibility. Though as Dominic explains, at this stage of their career the band are emboldened by fearlessness more so than invulnerability. “Everyone makes mistakes in whatever they do, but I think we certainly have this feeling that we can do whatever we want. Whether that’s right or wrong is a different thing. We definitely feel like we have this bizarre artistic freedom to do whatever we want and not really worry about it too much or think about how it might be perceived. We’re essentially just doing what we like. And of course we’re pushing ourselves to discover new ways of playing and recording music, and I think this album certainly shows it. There are all sorts of different things on this album.”
The 2nd Law blends pretty much every musical element you can imagine. From Bowie-style funk, to Eno-like soundscapes, and of course, the sheer bombast of Queen. “We just went for it with this one. I personally love those kind of albums, the ones where you put it on and go ‘what the fuck was that?’. The more you listen to it the more you discover new things. Every song and every corner you take feels like a completely different thing,” Dominic states. “The first two songs on the album couldn’t be more extreme in their difference from each other – the huge, massive rock riff of Supremacy to the minimal electronic music of Madness. So there are the two extremes of the album with the first two songs. But somehow, to me, they sit together quite nicely.”
With each transgressive step forward, as with their falsetto-laden Supermassive Black Hole from 2006’s Black Holes And Revelations, Muse manage to instigate a fervent and divisive reaction. In a provocative move, the first taste of The 2nd Law came in the form of the heavily dubstep-influenced Unsustainable. “I think it is good to provoke opinions,” Dominic states brashly. “Our band has always managed to weirdly split and divide opinions. Anything we do, people seem to love it or completely hate it and think it’s the worst thing ever. I love that. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s provoking something and inspiring a reaction. I think that we’ve been lucky that it’s what we’ve always managed to do with the music we’ve made. I think it’s important to get a reaction out of someone and not be in the middle of the bloody road, because that’s dull, let’s face it.”
With dubstep, particularly the modern US-style utilised on Unsustainable, still possessing somewhat of stigma with some music fans, Muse boldly explored the genre not so much to revere it, but to challenge its exclusively digital production. “We’ve always been inspired by loads of music, from extremely current things to music that is a hundred, two hundred years old. We’ve always been inspired by electronic music as well as rock, orchestral music, film music. We just get inspired by a lot of different things all the time. With Unsustainable, it was kind of like a challenge to modern day electronic music in some way. We’re playing our instruments in a really electronic way, but it’s all with real instruments – a real orchestra, real choir, real drums, bass and guitar. We just wanted to do something that was inspired by electronic music, but still very organic. It’s kind of a challenge to a man on his laptop.”
When asked about just when Australia will witness The 2nd Law in the live setting, Dominic is refreshingly honest. “I think it’s just gonna be next year sometime. Well to be honest rather than saying we’re gonna be there soon, it’s gonna be towards the end of next year, I know. Coming up to your summer,” he reveals. “We’ll be looking forward to coming back and doing some nice big shows.”
BY LACHLAN KANONIUK
The 2nd Law is out on Friday September 28 through Warner.