I can remember a time when I might have heard a song by Muse and though “Eh, just a Radiohead ripoff, not really worth paying attention to.”, and I really want to go back in time and defeat that version of me in a karate fight to the death. Of course, this would result in the present me, a Muse connessieur, to disappear from existence and my disappearance would result in me not being able to had gone back in time to kill myself and thus the feedback loop from a series of events would cause the entire universe to explode, and that’s coincidentally about what listening to Muse is like.
Muse rocks, let’s get that straight immediately. Many people compare them to Radiohead, and that’s nuts. Muse is everything Radiohead consciously tries not to be, and they do what they do far better than Radiohead could if they tried. The fact that the lead singer of Muse and the lead singer of Radiohead sound similar on some songs and the fact that they’re both British is the only factor that horrible, stupid American music journalists have to go by for comparison. I loathe these people and wish them the best on Earth since they’re assuredly going to Hell.
Ahem, so what Muse does, whether you like them or hate them, is to throw an encyclopedia’s worth of musical knowledge and prowess at you with the amps turned up to 11 and the distortion turned up to 12. Nothing is left to the imagination with this sound, it’s as if you were mixing Rachmaninov with Motörhead with an opera diva on lead vocals. Each song has a hook, whether guitar or distorted bass or classical piano, and none of it can be recreated by any but the finest of musicians, which is what Muse has in triplicate.
I often say about Muse, when they’re compared to Radiohead, is that they’re kind of like Radiohead only with half the members and twice the sound. The opening track, “New Born“, demonstrates that right out of the gate, as the song opens with a lovely piano piece and an addicting bass-line and Matthew Bellamy sings the words softly:
Link it to the world, link it to yourself
Stretch it like a birth squeeze
Ok, so I didn’t say Muse were lyricists. That’s possibly their only weakness, but like I have excused many artists before, Muse isn’t about the lyrics, because the voice is simply another instrument, and a grand one at that. Once the guitar comes in with that tasty riff, and the bass clicks on the distortion as the drums start wailing as hard of a beat as you can imagine, the song is ready to go, and the album hardly lets up after that. From the lead solo, which is admittedly much more impressive in live shows, to the ending vocal high-note, you can tell that the band is not out to make art, they’re there to impress. I’d say nice job, fellas!
The next song, “Bliss“, starts off with an electronic arpeggio which I believe is pre-programmed, to give it an outer-space feel (the video takes place in space, you see). Besides the fact that it’s awesome, I don’t have much else to say about it.
Following that is the song “Space Dementia“, which opens up with a classical piano piece that should sound very familiar to Classical music fans. It’s the opening to Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, one of his most famous works. Some may call it a ripoff, but I’d say it’s a combination of tribute and just showing off to the benefit of the song. I really don’t think Muse ever claimed to have written that piece, after all. If the question is ever asked “Is it possible to put heavy rock drumming over a classical piano piece?” the answer is right there. Also of note is the catastrophic ending to the song, basically it’s like the ship just got bombed as is going down in flames. Stunning!
I spoke of riffs and hooks earlier, and “Hyper Music” has both, if you can make it past the guitar feedback that opens the track. It starts with a fairly dissonant guitar pounding, with Bellamy’s patented vocal trilling as the bass calms down into a catchy riff indeed. One thing I appreciate about Muse is how willing they are to make the bass the melody instrument when the guitar is busy doing other more important things.
It’s really hard for me to pick a favorite song on this album, but if pressed, I might say “Plug In Baby” would be the one. I still haven’t figured out how to play the opening guitar riff, and the fact that the bass that comes in to join is equally catchy is just too much, man. The end of this song introduces an element to the Muse sound that would be vastly exploited later, but only appears once in this song, and that element is the soprano root note. I actually don’t know if that’s an accurate name for it, but basically it’s the highest note in the song, and probably higher than most men (or women) can sing. I wish the music video for this song was any good at all, but then Muse is better seen live than watched on film.
The next track, “Citizen Erased“, is a wonderful extra long track that features the 7-string guitar and a slow-down portion that I can’t help but dig. All’s I can say about this track is that you’d better be listening to it on something that can pound out the bass, as it makes use of some low frequency fun.
The next song is one of the most amazing tracks on the album. “Micro Cuts” doesn’t seem like much with its dire minor chords and minimal bass work, but when the vocals hit, particularly in the chorus, you get to see just how tight vocal cords can be pinched. This song is one of the reasons I say that Muse is out to impress you, and they do their job well.
The next songs, “Screenager” and “Dark Shines“, are good but definitely the weak point of the album. I typically skip them to prevent Late-Album Fatigue, but it’s worth noting that “Screenager” is much better played live, particularly on the Hullabaloo Soundtrack live album.
Muse apparently got a lot of attention for their covers, and I can see why. The penultimate track, “Feeling Good“, and old standard, starts off with an e-piano and after Muse is done giving the song the standard treatment, the distorted EVERYTHING comes in and indeed the result is good-feeling indeed. The bridge features megaphone-enhanced vocals, and on a particularly interesting televised version, Bellamy uses it to get back at the studio who tells the band not to curse on air.
The final song is “Megalomania“, which features some good ol’ fashioned Church organ and the best lyrics on the album, in my opinion anyway.
Paradise comes at a price
That I am not prepared to pay
What were we built for?
Could someone tell me please
Again, bass-pounding audio gear is necessary, those organ bass pedals are not messing around.
Origin Of Symmetry, in the grand scope of Muse albums, is what I consider the most “rocking” the band accomplishes. The next album, Absolution, I feel is more “epic” and perhaps should be taken more seriously, and Black Holes And Revelations is the “pop” album. Basically, if you are just getting into Muse or have never heard them, I’d say Absolution may be the best place to start, but you won’t be disappointed by what Origin has to offer, especially if you like having various bits of yourself rocked right off.
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