When most rock superstars buy their mum a house, they worry about whether it has enough helipads, safe rooms and unhampered views over George Clooney’s jogging route. When Matt Bellamy bought his mum a house in Devon in 2008, his main concerns were that it had a self-sustaining allotment, so that she could grow her own food once the electricity wars began, and was well-stocked with an entire local shop’s stock of baked beans and an axe for firewood.
Even back then, Matt must have been aware that the Second Law Of Thermodynamics pointed to the Earth’s closed system of energy eventually leading to a global blackout in which we’d all have to fend for ourselves, fight off the plundering bands of post-electricity techno-vikings and eat our own first-borns – a theme punched home by the provocative, cinematic ‘preview’ of their new album ‘The 2nd Law’, which hit streaming sites last week. Muse’s concerns have always hovered on the cutting edge of futuristic socio-economic horrors – the visions of a ‘United States Of Eurasia’, their songs about the shadowy cabals running the Earth and the concept of humanity either expanding into or originating from the stars. But something about the preview suggests they’ve stopped despairing about the end of the world and begun building themselves an escape pod.
It’s largely to do with the new focus the clip places on their record label Helium-3. As Kevin EG Perry pointed out in his blog last week, Helium-3 is a nuclear fusion fuel which could be mined from the moon, bringing new high-grade energy into the system and potentially saving the technological age. But this connection verges – as much of Muse’s musings do – on science fiction; more pertinent, perhaps, is the metaphor of a dying Earth in relation to the music industry itself. And Helium-3 looks set to be the force that saves Muse from the on-rushing industry apocalypse.
Created in 2006 around the ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ single, the label Helium-3 (a subsidiary of Warners) and its accompanying website have largely been an underexposed corner of Planet Muse – the label seemed a crowbarred-into-the-contract vanity sop to the band, and the website an obsessives-friendly single page used to host advance video clips, links to ticket sales and cryptic messages that fans can decode to receive Christmas gifts.
To most casual observers, Muse have seemed steadfastly signed to Warner Brothers records. But placing upfront the message that their preview was made ‘by the motion picture association of Helium-3’ suggests a shift of focus to the label as a multi-media conglomerate, as if the rest of the world is being let in on the dedicated Musers’ specialised, secret world. Could it be that, as the potential end of their contract with Warners approaches (Warners bought out Taste Media’s six-album deal with Muse in 2005, of which three albums had already been delivered, so ‘The 2nd Law’ would be the final album of the deal if it doesn’t include live albums), they’re firing up the launch of their own autonomous mini-industry, a new hive of rock life orbiting a once-raging star now collapsing in on itself?
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Muse are no strangers to the concept of self-production. Before Radiohead began investigating new and increasingly annoying methods of releasing their music, before Jay-Z and Madonna signed deals with Live Nation and before the likes of Placebo made a success of licensing their music through a variety of labels worldwide, Muse and their management team pioneered the idea of the autonomous self-release, their then-label Mushroom/Taste Media striking separate deals in each global territory so that the band were always in complete control. And it seems very uncharacteristic for such a hegemony-shattering band to be held under a major label’s yoke for too long – it has felt a bit like Che Guevara taking a middle-management role at Starbucks.
So will ‘The 2nd Law’ see Muse create their own independent universe and revolutionise the top end of the music industry as sweepingly as they have stadium showmanship and 21st Century dubstep’n’roll? It certainly seems fitting, as the self-destruct klaxons reverberate around the music industry, that Muse would finally blast off into the unknown in their own self-contained emergency shuttle. Promusetheus, here we come…?