Muse anglicise a different aspect of America from the blues and R&B that inspired previous generations of Britrockers. The Devon trio are an English offshoot of the conspiratorial, paranoid strain of mind that brought us The X Files, Ayn Rand, Jack London, 9/11 deniers, etc. They do not go near the really hateful stuff – it is not as if they have turned The Protocols of the Elders of Zion into rock opera – but they do unleash some powerful libertarian hoodoo. Crackpot US rightwinger Glenn Beck praises their songs for posing “the fundamental question facing the world today – can man rule himself?”
They opened the first of two O2 Arena shows with the title track of their new album The 2nd Law. It refers to the thermodynamic law that all systems move inexorably towards chaos and breakdown – a cheery proposition that the threesome proceeded to illustrate with nerve-shredding sci-fi synthesisers, a massive distorted dubstep bassline and a robotic voice lecturing us about the unsustainability of techno-capitalism. A ticker tape of stock prices scrolled across their high-tech stage.
“You don’t have long, I am on to you,” singer-guitarist Matt Bellamy wailed in an unhinged falsetto in the next song “Supremacy” as bombastic orchestrations and a menacing riff evoked an apocalyptic James Bond theme tune. The secret of Muse’s success is to turn paranoia into
blockbusting stadium entertainment, yoking shadowy themes of alien abduction and government mind control to flamboyant Queen-style pomp-rock.
Their stage was in the round, so Bellamy could promenade about performing a 360-degree surveillance of his audience. An inverted pyramid composed of LCD screens hung above the threesome like a masonic symbol. Yet for all the spectacle, the trio appeared subdued, as though mulling over Beck’s unwelcome endorsement: Bellamy recently complained that in the US the right has hijacked “conspiracy theory subculture” for wild anti-Obama fantasies.
But by degrees the outrageous logic of their world view asserted itself. Bellamy, wearing black shades, channelled Freddie Mercury, George Michael and Men in Black in “Madness”. Drummer Dominic Howard and bassist Christopher Wolstenholme turned the Dr Who theme tune into a monstrous glam rock stomp on “Uprising”.
The pyramid descended ominously, engulfing the band. They emerged for the encore with Bellamy on his knees, performing guitar-shredding solos and howling operatically about survivalism while geysers of dry ice erupted around him. The end of an entertaining show was nigh.