Stockholm, capital city of Sweden and most populated urban area in the whole of Scandinavia, perches on the east coast of Sweden, looking out over the Baltic sea towards Finland. Home to 22% of Sweden's population, Stockholm is a marriage between royal antiquity and the stylishly new. Here, Swedes strut around showing off expensive brand-names down cobbled streets between buildings dating back to the 13th century. In winter, the Baltic freezes and the sun dips beyond the horizon, casting Stockholm into more than 18 hours of darkness a day. The Scandinavian winters can be stifling and claustrophobic, making residents feel captives of the city and the climate. And yet Stockholm is ranked 20th out of 350 cities worldwide for happiness and quality of life. Perhaps the Swedes are showing evidence of literal Stockholm Syndrome.
In 1973, a group of bank robbers took several hostages at the Kreditbanken in Norrmalmstorg, Stockholm. For six days, the hostages were held captive while police desperately tried to negotiate their freedom. On the sixth day, when the robbers finally released the hostages, the victims showed an irrational attachment to their captors, sympathizing with them and even defending their actions to the police. A psychologist on the scene to assist the police negotiations termed this psychological phenomenon Stockholm Syndrome. According to the FBI, about 27% of all hostages and kidnap victims experience Stockholm Syndrome. This bizarre psychological state provided the inspiration and title for Muse's song.
“Stockholm Syndrome” is the fifth track on Muse's third studio album, Absolution. Released in 2003, this album is often touted as the British band's best. Absolution deals specifically with the emotions of fear, mistrust, personal achievement and joy. “Stockholm Syndrome” is a dramatic summation of all these feelings, but the song's origins are less impressive. The basic riff was used as filler during live performances on preceding tours and it was only much later that the band expanded the jarring riff into the first single of this album.
Although Muse takes the abuser's perspective in the song, the lyrics relate directly to Stockholm Syndrome, the psychological condition. This different perspective has often led to confusion about the meaning of the lyrics and title. Front man Bellamy delivers the sometimes desperate, sometimes aggressive lyrics in his usual strained falsetto, lending a sense of hysteria to the song ~ hysteria reiterated by the incessant drumming and grating guitar riff reminiscent of angry Nirvana songs. The gentle piano melody combined with immense synthesizer swells and dramatic cymbals adds to the emotional intensity of this song and the complex psychological condition behind it.
Typical of Muse's work, the album in its entirety could easily be used as a soundtrack for some high-octane Hollywood thriller. Looking at the titles of the other tracks on Absolution, there is a definite trend towards the bleak and apocalyptic: “Time is Running Out,” “Hysteria,” “Thoughts of a Dying Atheist,” and “Blackout.” “Stockholm Syndrome,” however, remains the definitive track of this album and a showcase for everything that is great about the band.
The music video for “Stockholm Syndrome” was shot using a thermal camera. The word “captor” appears within the opening sequence of the video in graffiti across the wall while a human figure cowers in a fetal position. The word “prisoner” appears written on skin several times throughout the video. This psychedelic video intensifies the emotional dichotomy of the psychological condition it represents: the sympathy for the abuser versus the risk to the captor's life. The image of Bellamy belting out the lyrics is a neon reminder of Edvard Munch's The Scream.
These images, combined with the lyrics, relentless bass and driving drums, truly capture the emotional and psychological torment of Stockholm Syndrome. Regrettably, it may be what the Swedish capital is most famous for. But if nothing else, Muse put the Scandinavian city on the proverbial map and made a new generation of alternative rockers aware of a strange and difficult-to-comprehend psychological condition. ~ Suzanne van Rooyen
Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and The Other Me. When not writing, she teaches dance and music to middle schoolers and eats far too much peanut-butter.
No Comments yet! Be the first to leave a comment!