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Behind The Song: Muse’s “Madness”

"It was basically 12-bar blues. I don’t know what I was doing, I was just jamming."
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Matt Bellamy (Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images)

Matt Bellamy (Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images)

Behind The Song

Although they’re a mere trio, the larger-than-life sounds produced by British prog-rockers Muse carry the weight of bands twice their size. An arena rock band to the core, Muse’s musical dexterity has earned them comparisons to Rush and Queen.

So it came as a surprise to some when “Madness,” the second single from Muse’s latest album The 2nd Law, shared more musical DNA with classic Depeche Mode and – dare we say it – dubstep than anything else. “Madness” eschews Muse’s usual guitar-driven pomp and complexity for an electronic pulse that’s far more minimal and quietly emotional than most anything in the band’s extensive catalog.

“I kind of felt like that would be a good direction to go in for us, because everything we normally do is quite overblown and theatrical and all that stuff,” Muse frontman Matt Bellamy told Radio.com in an exclusive interview. “I was quite into the minimalism of it. So it was written in that way. It was just me alone in a room, jaded, basically [laughs]. That’s how the song emerged.”

Apparently Muse’s fans were into the song’s minimalism as well. “Madness” not only reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Rock Songs and Alternative Songs charts, it’s nominated for Best Rock Song at this year’s GRAMMYs.

“It’s one of those rare songs for me where it all just came at once,” Bellamy said, noting that the words and music to “Madness” were crafted simultaneously.

Essentially, the song poured out of him, which makes sense given its inspiration. “Madness” stemmed from a lovers’ quarrel between him and his movie star fiance, actress Kate Hudson.

“You have a little bit of a fight with your girlfriend and she leaves you to think about it for the day,” Bellamy explained. “I just sat there like, ‘What am I doing?’ I sort of had to just do something, you know? I couldn’t just sit there whining about it all day.”

So Bellamy retreated into his recording studio, cathartically working through the relationship drama with music.  

“I had a synth sound, the first sound that came up on my system,” he said. “I just threw this bass line in. It was basically 12-bar blues. I don’t know what I was doing, I was just jamming. I started singing over it and I thought, ‘This is so simple, but it’s good.’”

For the song’s dystopian music video, Muse turned to director Anthony Mandler, known for his work with Rihanna, fun. and Lana Del Rey. Shot on the Red Line platform at the famous Los Angeles Union Station, the clip captures the song’s simmering tension.

Muse will be attendance at the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on February 10 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. The band’s most recent album, The 2nd Law, is also nominated for Best Rock Album.

-Scott T. Sterling, Radio.com

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