Review Summary: Masterpiece.
Origin of Symmetry, an album that was deemed too mad and not radio friendly enough for American listeners. This delayed the American release by four years but over here Brits were already basking in the glory of Muse's masterpiece.
Showbiz first put Muse on the map in the United Kingdom and was their first opportunity to show what they were about - screaming falsetto, recurring piano riffs and massive epics set in space....kinda. Or at least that was what it said on the tin. In truth, Showbiz was rather poppy and, with the exception of a few tracks, merely decent. The grand opening of Sunburn promised much but delivered not that much. To call this the difficult second album would be a little unfair because Showbiz wasn't that succesful, or good. All in all the set was staged for OOS and Muse delivered where they had somewhat failed in the first album.
Matthew Bellamy isn't just the exceptional singer of the band; he's an exceptional Pianist and an exceptional guitarist. All three of these skills are presented on New Born, the opening track. The song opens with a tangy piano riff that always find it's way neatly into the right place and Bellamy sings what he sings best about, goodness knows what. The song evolves nicely and Dominic Howard, a very accomplished drummer, and the infectious bass from Chris Wolstenholme are introduced. The chorus is full of grand falsetto and is followed by a superb guitar solo from Bellamy. This was everything the opening should have been and suggests that have evolved from a simple Alternative Prog-Rock group into an explosive mash of Classical music and Heavy Rock.
However we are taken aback even further as Muse show their diversity even more with the aptly named Bliss. Synths and Pianos aren't a formula used very often by bands but Muse take to it like a duck to water. Not content with a simple 4 note pattern, Bellamy drifts into the heavens with this song and his lyrics are perfect for it as he drifts into, "Everything about you is how I want to be. Your freedom comes naturally..." Muse do ethereal very well and this song hits the spot perfectly and settles itself into another falsetto chorus before coming back to earth the same way it started, perfectly.
If Bliss is ethereal and settling then Space Dementia is the opposite. Although Bliss is a well worked song and it doesn't strike you as quite the masterpiece it begins as. Where Bliss almost makes it, Space Dementia accomplishes. Bellamy shows that his piano playing is no gimmick with an incredible show full of arpeggios and tone changes. Howard's drums slowly come in and strike before Bellamy wails impeccably, "H 8.....is the one for me.......it gives me all I need....helps me co-exist....with the chill........."
It's more than startling, it's riveting, and we stick through the whole 6 minutes absolutely dumbstruck. Where I was merely impressed on the first two tracks, I am in awe on the third. The song closes in electronics yet there is something so organic about it all.
After the thrills of three piano-based tracks it seems only right to hear some of Bellamy's guitar skills too. Anyone who doubted them will suprised with the next two tracks. Hyper Music isn't as powerful as it's Hullaballo alter ego but more interesting. It also gives us the opportunity to appreciate Wolstenhome's skills on the bass. The lyrics aren't as compelling but it works pretty well. Plug In Baby, which follows, is the song that most people will have heard on the radios, probably because it is one of the few that sound remotely normal. However, as much as I've heard this song, I still thoroughly enjoy it. The guitar riff is easily one of the best I've heard in a long time and as a Drummer I always have fun bashing along to this one. Five tracks in, this album has sounded virtually flawless.
And so we come to the centre piece of the album, Citizen Erased. To say this one of the greatest rock tracks I've ever heard would be an understatement. It is 7 minutes and 19 seconds of pure progressive rock heaven from the band. It sumps up perfectly Muse's style and the impact they have made on British rock music. Opening with a clever riff, the song unfolds into a perfect sequence of chords that compliments Bellamy's singing perfectly. He opens, typically, with a rather bizzare set of words but they are exactly what the song needs, "Break me in...teach us to cheat, and to lie, and cover up, what shouldn't be shared." The lyrics suggest the band are trying to prove something, not that they need to. The falsetto in the chorus is more than just music and he accomplishes to change in tone in his voice marvellously, "For one moment, I wish you'd hold your stage with no feelings at all, open minded, I'm sure I used to be something..." he screams before breaking down simply to allow us breathing space. He whispers a verse before bursting back into the chorus which is followed by a delicious guitar solo. The song eventually fades away into glory as Bellamy swaps onto his beloved piano singing, "Wash me away, clean your body of me, erase all the memories..." I certainly won't erase this song from my memory for a long, long time.
To follow such a song would seem almost cheeky but Micro-Cuts is so well done you can't help but appreciate their tenacity. Screaming falsetto is a term I've overused in this review but he takes it into new heights here. He must surely put many opera singers to shame and this song proves it. Whether he reaches a new highest note for himself here is debatable but it is very high and not at all irritating.
These songs are almost tiring but it is a nice exhaustion, the exhaustion of being in such wonder of a song. Screenager takes these levels down a little with a nice piece that has some nice African sounding instrumentals as well. Dark Shines is a bit rougher round the edges but still a very good track that adds rather than detracts from this album and enters into a very good cover of Feeling Good, one of the best covers I've heard. They get the balance between their sound, Bellamy's voice and the feel of the song itself wonderfully before closing with the nice organ led song Megalomania.
It's a fitting end to an album that I hold near to my heart. Perhaps the Americans didn't get it but I certainly did. Spacey synths, arpeggios, guitar solos.....it all works. The best thing about Muse though is that for a group so mysterious, they still manage to come across as so accessable and revealing. Their songs have more than just music put into them but their emotions too. Muse produce technically excellent rock songs that will hit a chord with listeners of Prog-Rock, Rock in general and also fans of Classical Music that want to go a little deeper. This is their peak and hopefully a sign that they can hit such heights again one day. A landmark.