Muse Opus Revisited

Muse is a notable band for the fact that while remaining progressive, they have appealed to an entire generation of new music listeners, and introduced many to a taste of prog who would otherwise go without. They have released some very credible music in their time. However, judging from ‘Showbiz,’ it wasn’t always this way.

‘Showbiz’ is not good. Most of the songs are annoying to listen to after a few spins, if it doesn’t already grind your nerve on the first listen. However, while it’s a bit of a poor release, it’s definately not abysmal. There’s a little bit of enjoyment to be found here, and theres one song that (coming out of nowhere) is actually fantastic. That song (and ultimately, the sole partially redeeming factor about ‘Showbiz’) is ‘Muscle Museum.’ It’s a very angsty song, and unlike the other songs on the album, theres proper sonic layering, and a well-developed song structure.

Besides that gem in the rough, the rest of the music comes off as being very noisy, and undercooked. There are parts of songs that are nice, but you can’t expect more than a few listens from this one.

Muse’s first album ‘Showbiz’ was a bit dissapointing for me, and seeing as I listened to the debut after listening to two fantastic records by the band (‘Black Holes And Revelations’ and ‘Absolution’) I found myself in a bit of a rut with the band. The debut had very little going for it, and wasn’t very distinguishable from the loads of alternative rock getting spewed out of the UK.

But enough about ‘Showbiz.’

After having lost my faith with the band for a little while, I decided to pick up the one album of theirs that I had missing ‘Origin Of Symmetry.’ I had heard some very good things about the album; Q Magazine even rated it as the 76th Greatest Album of All Time. Naturally, I was intrigued and wanted to see what the buzz was about.

After having given ‘Origin Of Symmetry’ a fair amount of listening time and consideration, I would have to say that it stands as being the band’s second most enjoyable album, after ‘Black Holes And Revelations.’ Despite not being as amazing as the aforementioned winner was to me, this feels like the quintessential Muse album nontheless. There is everything here that the band is known for – ethereal melodies, soaring melodies, and a bombastic sense of ‘epic’ that makes the band’s sound both memorable and powerful.

This album also has the band’s best song (in my opinion) ‘Citizen Erased.’ While it never really hit me at first (the main riff sounded very noisy and unnecessary initially) I realized how perfect of a composition it was. Being a mini-suite of sorts, it covers a wide range of emotions, and is sure to appeal to prog fans provided they give it the time of day.

All in all, ‘Origin Of Symmetry’ is a good album for someone to start out their experience with Muse. Despite being flawed in a few areas (for example, ‘Hyper Music’ is frankly hyper-irritating) but there is some fantastic material here, that deserves to be explored.

‘Absolution’ is a work of two faces. The first 8 songs (which i would count as being the first half) are fantastic, and flow very well. Musically, theres great songwriting, great performances and an epic quality that is rarely found in alternative rock. The rest of it however is mediocre (albeit listenable) material that really seems to kill the album’s overall sense of body and completion.

There are parts here that do not sound like a band of only three musicians. Muse have a way of magically turning a 3-piece into the sonic equivalent of a rock orchestra, and giving a strength and bite to their music.

Is this band going to meet constant criticism from prog fans? Unfortunately, yes. They are very alternative rock based, which many could consider a far cry from actually being prog. While theres definately a feeling that Muse are never going to be full-out prog, they incorperate prog music into a more accessible songwriting style that is definately enjoyable, although the band tends to flow in a very depressing direction in terms of their musical style and feeling.

‘Absolution’ is not the greatest Muse has ever made, or will ever make. However, it, like many things in life, is but an evolution; a development and transmutation. I have my hopes up that someday this talented band will make an ‘Abolution II’ of sorts that will carry the same level of quality from the first side and keep that going throughout the entire product… Until then, we have a fatally flawed masterpiece.

Muse (concerning all of the other music they have done) have generally impressed me in their songwriting, and have written some pretty great songs, but I’ve never really felt that a really ambitious album had been made by them… until I gave ‘Black Holes And Revelations’ a good listen. While Muse’s previous albums suffered from issues such as a lack of flow (‘Showbiz’) or an inconsistency in song quality (‘Absolution’ had a near-perfect first side, but a very mediocre second,) Muse are able to improve on past shortcomings, and make an album that is dramatic, bombastic and larger than life from start to finish.

Muse certainly do not try to bombard the listener with progressive insanity, but moreso integrate prog/innovative ideas into a more accesible sound. That’s not to say that this is ‘mainstream’ however. It is simply a marriage of two schools of music; and there are certainly enough strange ideas in the music to keep the album fresh for many, many listens.

It’s also nice to have a break in Prog where the concept of melody is held in high regard. While this attention to accessible songwriting conventions and lengths may be condemned by a ‘br00tal’ Prog fan, there’s nothing to suffer here. Some of Muse’s previous work had alot of raw noise to it (a la Alternative Rock) but here the sound is polished and refined to perfection, which is definately a nice improvement in any case.

While there isn’t any ‘filler’ work here, there are some tracks here that are a bit of a break from the ‘larger than life’ atmosphere that Muse is prone to generate. The song ‘Hoodoo’ for example, shouldn’t be considered so much as a song, than a mere extended intro or interlude before the true epic of the album, ‘Knights Of Cydonia.’ While some may see this as nothing more than wasted album time, it makes the flow alot better (after all, an album with solely bombastic material would get a bit boring.) In terms of flow, there is a roller coaster of sorts, going from high, energetic points (‘Assassin,’ ‘Knights Of Cydonia’) to the more laid back tracks (such as ‘Soldier’s Poem.)

Muse have reached their peak with this release. They have more or less corrected all of the problems in their sound, and in doing so have created an album that is catchy, yet inately intelligent and complex. ‘Black Holes And Revelations’ is a great piece, and a sure sign that prog is still seeping into the mainstream, whether people know it or not.

Alright… I think I’ve just recovered from (hopefully) my biggest musical dissapointment of 2009. Having not been a huge fan of Muse, I was still very much looking forward to the release of this album. Having heard such great things about how the album was apparently, ‘symphonic’ and ‘progressive,’ I naturally had very high hopes that Muse was going to finally release something worthy of being called a ‘masterpiece.’ It’s safe to say that’s nothing near masterful at all.

The album is more or less a collection of some listenable, but forgettable pop tracks, one or two good songs (‘United States Of Eurasia’ and the title track) a poor excuse for a symphony – which I will go into painful detail with – and wait… an Rn’B song? Doesn’t sound like a very winning formula to me.

Listening to the album and being dissapointed with the overall product, I had to force myself to get through the shorter songs so I could make my way to the core of the matter; the symphonic ‘masterpiece’ that Matt Bellamy had alledgedly composed. What it actually turns out to be however, is a smattering of string instruments playing slow, droning arpeggios, and the occasional whimper from Bellamy. Moreover, I was expecting a work of epic proportion; with a proper climax and a progression that crosses over many feelings and emotions. What ‘Exogenesis Symphony’ turns out to be is three very quiet songs that go absolutely nowhere.

‘The Resistance’ has left me with a bit of an empty feeling. I laud the band on at least trying to go into unexplored territory though!

They can’t all be zingers!

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

1 Comment

  1. Muser

    June 20, 2012 at 4:58 am

    EVERY SINGLE NOTE, LYRIC, AND VOCAL CORD PUT INTO ANY OF MUSES SONGS IS ABSOLUTELY GOD- LIKE AND BEAUTIFUL.

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