Look at the name ‘Newport Centre’ from any angle and you won’t find a lie. It’s a leisure centre in Newport. You’ll smell the chlorine from the swimming pool on your way in, and see glimpses of badminton court markings between rows of Converse once the crowd assembles in front of the stage. It’s an honest venue: no frills, no pretence, no attendant sense of theatre. It’s a blank canvas.
Some bands thrive in this sort of environment, others are swallowed up by the sterile mediocrity of their surroundings. Muse are in the former camp, and they have been since day one. In October 1999, during a run opening for Skunk Anansie, they walked out at the Newport Centre armed with songs from ‘Showbiz’, their first album. Against the odds, they managed to leave an impression.
In the 20 years since their debut’s arrival, Matt Bellamy has ditched the awkward, spangly shirts and frosted tips (solid move, my dude) but so much of what later made them superstars was there right at the start. Under the lights at the Newport Centre, peak-spangle, they were shockingly loud and endearingly overwrought.
Doubtless they’ll be same at the London Stadium to open their latest run of enormo-shows on June 1, so join us as we slip into a pair of Berny jeans with a six foot wingspan to look back at the core materials of ‘Showbiz’—a minor work in relative terms that became the cornerstone of one of modern rock’s biggest success stories.
Under The Influence
At a remove of two decades, ‘Showbiz’ appears every bit the debut LP. It’s home to Muse staples—Bellamy’s propensity to shift between guitar and piano, dramatic quasi-classical arrangements, Chris Wolstenholme’s melodic bass runs—but it is also in hock to its influences in a way the band would never truly be again.
To call the record Radiohead-lite would be to dismiss the debt it owes to Sonic Youth and Nirvana, even if it shares a common bond with ‘The Bends’ through producer John Leckie. It’s the work of three people who had been playing together since they were kids—they learned how to be a band as they learned what music they liked—and unavoidably sounds like it. It feels human in a way Muse’s later dystopian sci-fi work almost consciously seeks to avoid.
The LP’s bleeding edges are there because that’s the sort of thing Bellamy, Wolstenholme and drummer Dom Howard went searching for in other artists. “People like Nick Cave—that ridiculous, over-the-top doom, taking it to extremes,” Bellamy told Uncut’s Stephen Dalton in 2000. “I find it uplifting because it’s like someone else is feeling what you’re feeling and putting it into their music.”
From there it’s easy to extrapolate things out to Muscle Museum, one of five singles released from ‘Showbiz’. Over a circus…