On this day in 2003 (September 28), Muse were at number one with their third studio album ‘Absolution. Now, when ‘Origin Of Symmetry’ turned ten we got an entire Reading & Leeds set dedicated to it, stage full of gigantic rugby posts and all. So even though this is an inferior milestone (but actually superior, in my opinion, album) we couldn’t let go by without marking this monolith of meta-rock mastery with the blog-based reverence it deserves. Here’s ten things that, unless you’ve read my book Out Of This World: The Story Of Muse, you might not know about ‘Absolution’…
Initially ‘Absolution’ was planned as a concept album around the theme of insanity, much like Pink Floyd’s mega-selling ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. Ultimately, the influence of the Iraq War would change the direction of the record but, as producer Paul Reeve explained, ”there are still some elements of that. What’s left of that is things like ‘Butterflies & Hurricanes’.”
2.The Devil Pact
Considering its working title was ‘Action Faust’ – referencing the Machiavellian pact made in Goethe’s Devil-courting classic – one online reading of ‘The Small Print’ claims that the song is about Satan buying someone’s soul in return for supernatural musical prowess. ”Be my slave to the grave,” Bellamy howls, ”I’m a priest God never paid.” The sort of ‘Small Print’ you’d only expect to find if you actually bothered to read the new iTunes customer agreement, but gotta say, that Bellamy kid’s pretty good at guitar, huh? Suspicious?
3.The Backwards Message
We all know the basis of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ of course – the bank robbery of Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg, Stockholm in 1973 when some of the hostages that were held for six days fell in love with and later defended their captors at the trial – one even went so far as to take one of the robbers’ names before going missing. But did you know it’s thought the chorus, when played backwards, resembles the rather fitting line “You can’t see me, we sneak off. I lost to love. Please… save the night wind and high above, I lost to love. Sing, save”?
4.The Wagon Drum
Unusual ‘instruments’ the band play on the album include thighs (slapped on ‘Time Is Running Out’), a swimming pool (where Dom recorded the drums for ‘Apocalypse Please’), a cork-winding machine, gravel (on which the band stomped for the intro), hot tub bubbles (unused overdubs of ‘Apocalypse…’) and a wagon wheel, used as a drum on ‘Time Is Running Out’. What no Shatner’s Bassoon?
5.The Dumbstruck Orchestra
”Usually if you go to a session and there are string players,” said Paul Reeve of the days when the band recorded with a full orchestra, ”they’re on the whole quite snooty. They think they’re really above it, they think they’ll do it through a lack of something proper to do. But Matt sat down and did this pseudo-Rachmaninov bit on the piano and their jaws dropped! This whole orchestra was staring at him in absolute awe. That was a lovely moment.”
6.The Inflatable Bedroom
While writing the album, Muse hired out an empty apartment facility in Hackney where they could play until 4am. The apartment was so sparse that, following an emergency trip to Ikea, Chris was presented with his very own inflatable bedroom.
7.The Global Conspirators
The video for ‘Time Is Running Out’, featuring a shadowy council of Dr Strangelove-esque powermongers, was inspired by the Trilateral Commission, an organization of bankers, academics, politicians, union leaders and media and energy CEOs set up in 1973, and whom Matt believed were really controlling the world. This, of course, was before Simon Cowell and Facebook cookies.
8.The Torture Nightmares
Having decided that ‘Absolution’ would have to be his biggest sociopolitical statement yet, the stress began to get to Matt. He experienced extreme mood-swings in the studio, at times stricken with crippling self-doubt and at other buzzing off a seemingly inexhaustible creativity. So deeply did the stress get to him that he started having dreams about being hung upside down by his ankles and beaten on the soles of his feet. This, of course, was before Grand Theft Auto V.
9.The Launch Party
Rather than a single plate-full of damp vol au vents strapped to the head of a lone, soggy dwarf, as is the current standard of album launch parties, Muse premiered ‘Absolution’ to the press with a grand ‘viewing’ at the London Planetarium, media and guests treated to a spectacular star-show before being invited to an after-party at Madam Tussauds and having to exit through the underground Chamber Of Horrors with actors dressed as zombies leaping at them from every corner. It was brilliant.
10.The Mystery Of The Floating Shadows
The cover shot of ‘Absolution’, representing the shadows of souls ascending to Heaven during the Rapture, or possibly aliens descending, was taken by photographer Robert Truman from legendary sleeve designer Storm Thorgerson’s original concept, and was entirely un-photoshopped. How the cut-outs casting the shadows were suspended seemingly without support remains a secret.