Many bands will tell you that, long before they head into the studio to start recording a new album, they'll test the waters a bit. Maybe they'll experiment with exotic instrumentation, tinker with different musical styles and challenge the overall direction of the sound they've already established — ideally without alienating their fanbase.
Over the years, Muse fans have come to expect the band to push the proverbial envelope. And the thunderous British rock trio have abided, consistently expanding their sonic reach and releasing LPs that pull from diverse influences including Radiohead, Black Sabbath and Queen.
But even Muse's most adventurous fans might be surprised by the group's forthcoming LP, which was recorded in New York last October with Rich Costey (Franz Ferdinand, Cave In).
"The diversity of the album and some of the directions we've discovered and gone for might shock [our fans] in some way," drummer Dominic Howard explained (see "Muse Plan More Upbeat Follow-Up To Melancholy Absolution"). "Hopefully, it will be a nice shock — ultimately all of them sound like Muse. We reached a point where we were looking at all these songs and how different they sounded, and we were wondering how this was ever going to sound like a band, like one album. But somehow it really does."
Muse — who are currently mixing the yet-untitled follow-up to 2003's Absolution — spent a number of months writing "in this old chateau that's hours away from civilization" in the south of France, Howard said. The band brought 16 tracks to New York, and the dramatic change of scenery helped shape the end product — which will probably feature 11 cuts when it hits stores in July.
"When we moved into this crazy, claustrophobic, fast-paced way of living, we absorbed some of that energy and that affected the recording," Howard said of the move to New York. "If we had stayed in the south of France, we would have taken five years to finish the record. [There,] we spent a lot of time just discovering what we were going to do, sitting around and chatting about where we wanted to take the band and which direction certain songs should follow."
The material, Howard said, is a "very drastic" mix of musical styles: Some tracks border on "mellow jazz," while others are at the opposite end of the spectrum, sounding like "Prince-influenced, groove-based rock weirdness." The work of influential Italian film composer Ennio Morricone ("The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," "The Untouchables") inspired the space-prog tune "The Knights of Cydonia." And on "Take a Bow," which calls on world leaders to take responsibility for their actions, Muse move through three musical stages: starting off as a classical piece before moving into a techno mid-section and an "apocalyptic rock" ending.
Howard said the band is currently putting the finishing touches on the disc and deliberating which song to release as the first single. Muse will debut some of the new material this summer during a number of European festival appearances, and the group plans to tour the U.S. this fall.