Muse is one of those bands that I passionately love, and also have a visceral hatred of as well. On one hand, they’re sonically amazing, with some absolutely amazing songs, with deafening riffs and such. On the other hand, they’re thematically barren. The last few albums have been pretty samey, thematically. They get boring. I think its a Coldplay sort of thing.
Muse have made some amazing songs, and albums, and they have made some less amazing songs and some dreadful albums. They epitomise Tracklist. Looking through a band’s albums, picking what encapsulates that album (and is the best song), and discussing the album. I have discussed them on here before, in various posts, so perhaps its time I gave them a proper review.
Muse’s first album sounds very much like early Radiohead, pre-OK Computer Radiohead. That would make sense, as the album was produced by the producer of The Bends, a Radiohead album. It isn’t as depressing as that album (listen to Street Spirit), but it has certainly got some of its nihilistic DNA.
Showbiz is raw, untamed, and a bit unpredictable in parts, but it is a good album as a whole. There are some completely wild rockers, such as Showbiz and Uno, and delicate ballads such as Unintended and Falling Down. Showbiz takes the cake for me though, with a slow build-up, and then a bold crash it descends into completely destructive anarchy with blistering vocals by Matthew Bellamy and some shattering guitar work. It is a great song to start with if you want to listen to some early Muse, as it is so unlike what comes after it. To an extent, anyway.
2001- ORIGIN OF SYMMETRY
Origin of Symmetry is actually one of my favourite Muse albums, as it showcases the musical development of the group, in just two short years, and benefits from taking some more musical risks with the compositions, resulting a more experimental album, which builds on, rather than replaces, the sound of the previous album.
The album flirts with space, psychedelic, and progressive rock in songs such as Space Dementia and Citizen Erased, with songs like Bliss playing around with electronica and trance. This album is hard to pick a particular song from, as I love this one. If I had to pick one that defines the music of this album, it would probably be Megalomania. Megalomania is a heavy song, thematically over sonically. The Organ, however, does add a level of solidity to the sound. Matt Bellamy, the singer, stated that the song is about:
‘This is directed at what would be God, asking why we should go forth and multiply? What’s the point?’Matt Bellamy
And that’s why I like this album. It pushed the boundaries forth somewhat, and included bolder and badder songs. Truly one of Muse’s best.
Absolution was huge, when it was first released. It was, by my estimation, the biggest album of that particular year. Songs from it were constantly played on television, adverts, movies etc. That makes sense, as Absolution is probably Muse’s most well rounded album, as well as the huge commercial break for the band, making them the vanguard of spacey, progressive alt rock, and pushing Radiohead firmly into the legends camp by proxy. The album is solid, is what I am saying. Its bold, brash, and loud.
When picking a particular song that I believe characterises this album, I usually go with my favourite, or a song that resonates with me. Butterflies and Hurricanes is both my favourite song on the album, and one that resonates with me. If you’ve ever played the game F1 ’05 on PS2, then the song is familiar to you, as that was the game’s main theme song, and played when you first start the game. Further trivia: said game was made in Liverpool.
2005- BLACK HOLES AND REVELATIONS
The next two albums are peak Muse. When I say ‘peak’, I mean the peak of their relevance and popularity. Black Holes and Revelations is probably their biggest album. It certainly is a solid album, and one for any person who wants to get into Muse. That’s not to say I think its their best. Personally, I think its overrated and a bit overblown in parts, and a thematic retread of Absolution. I can forgive it though, because the songs are good. The music avoids Muse becoming a parody of themselves (we’ll get there), but it is very full.
Black Holes and Revelations has a number of great songs that I could pick to really define this album, or define my listening experience. Most people know all the songs on this album. For me, that song is Invincible. This is a song about achieving your personal goals, being aware that it will be hard. It starts saying that you should keep up with your dreams and never give in, even though it can get hard sometimes.
This song encapsulates the fullness of this album, and the positive message in the song is a good rebellion against many of the themes that Muse touches on in their music.
2009- THE RESISTANCE
I have never liked this album. This is the second part of the peak I was talking about earlier. Where the flaws of Black Holes and Revelations (repetition of themes from Absolution, and over-production) could be overlooked, due to some stellar songs, this one retreads themes and sound. Resistance has always bothered me because it has been a copy of Black Holes and Revelations.
I liked this album when it came out, but I have constantly reassessed it in time. Songs like Resistance and Uprising are good songs, but others like United States of Eurasia and Undisclosed Desires are either too overblown and bloated, or just bad cuts. Exogenesis Symphony is too serious to enjoy, but too laughable to be taken as a serious piece of work. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, this album isn’t good. My favourite song from it, Guiding Light, was good though. I liked the stadium rock sound it goes for, and the electric organ sounds make it sound a bit grandiose, but also make it a bit more playful. Playfulness is lacking in this album.
2012- THE 2ND LAW
This album is a return to form from Muse. While still having the Muse tropes in full spade, there is enough variation and experimentation in the music to make it a worthwhile listen. There are still moments of overly self indulgent Museness, but there are quieter moments too. The inclusion of elements like Dubstep, Funk, Classical, and rock are good. The songs by Bassist Chris Wolstenholme break things up nicely. I didn’t care for the swearing in Panic station though, and I felt the order of the last few tracks could have been reorganised.
Explorers is my favourite Muse song, bar none, and I think it mixes the typical Muse tropes up in a way that actually makes it a unique song, with a lullaby quality. No real guitar in this one, just soft percussion and acoustic dreaminess. It makes for a song that, frankly, doesn’t feel like Muse. It is a breath of fresh air, and I welcome it.
What happens when you get the music from Origin of Symmetry, and mix it up with the themes from Resistance? You get Drones! This album is basically my Muse conundrum in flesh. I don’t like this album, which means I love it. On one hand, there is profanity, sub-par songs, and a fourth album of ‘government is bad’ themes, and on the other hand, there’s some excellent music, a stripped down bombastic nature to it, and a dire ending. My only real weakness of this album is, once again, its lack of playfulness and repetition of themes. I am also sick of Muse concept albums. It has felt like the last 4 or 5 have been concept albums, rather than just a collection of songs.
Is The Globalist a good sequel to Citizen Erased? I think so. It shares elements, such as the music being in movements, and being rather long. It is the best song on the album. I feel like this is an improved version of ‘Thoughts of a Dying Atheist’ not because they sound similar or convey the same exact message, it’s more of the overtones of mortality and the melancholy emotions that are strung to it. I like how introspective it is, with a prog rock build that makes a wonderful crescendo.
2018- SIMULATION THEORY
As Muse’s latest album, I’ve not really had the level of experience with it, as I have had others, but I do like it. In many ways, it does what The 2nd Law did, but better. It adds to the sound of Muse, and is very, very playful. I think its muse’s best album in years, simply because it is much more playful and lighter in tone.
Out of all the songs, It does have two duds: I don’t care for Something Human, and Dig Down goes into Resistance territory for me. That said, Algorithm, The Dark Side, and The Void are some strong songs. I also think Pressure is catchy too. Having properly listened to it for the first time for this retrospective, I think its an okay album
Muse are a hit and miss group for me, and it infuriates me. At their best, they do some mind blowing music, that really hits you in the gut with how good and amazing it is. However, at their worst, they make overblown, overproduced, overindulgent, overly complex pieces that fit into a cookie cutter narrative that has run dry. I guess that is why I haven’t really paid much attention since 2012 on their music. I don’t know what they will do next, but I have a suggestion.
This year, Gorillaz, of all bands, is releasing new music (and quite soon after The Now Now tour) as and when it gets finished. Song Machine means that, rather than doing an album, they are creating new songs and releasing them, as and when they can. In the modern day, I think this could be a good direction for Muse. It will allow them to flex their muscles, and not be tied to ideas or themes: just go in and make music. I think it may help the group regain relevance.