Review Summary: Showbiz is at times forgettable, but it showcases some of the talent that sparked Muse’s meteoric rise to stardom.
Considering the success that Muse has achieved over the past decade, it is hard to imagine a time in which they did not dominate large portions of the modern music scene. Ever since Origin of Symmetry
, the band’s popularity has risen exponentially, simultaneously receiving both massive acclaim for their musicianship and songwriting as well as criticism for a perceived lack of ingenuity. With the band’s debut album, Showbiz
, the media generally focused on the latter, as Matthew Bellamy’s unmistakable vocal similarities to Thom Yorke were heavily criticized. Some even went as far as to write off Muse, calling them a cheap Radiohead cover band. Of course, Muse would go on to eventually blaze their own path, establishing more of an original identity in the process. But with Showbiz
, we find ourselves back at the roots of this legendary band; the inception of Muse’s successful, storied career.
is a decidedly energetic affair. Matthew Bellamy’s uncanny ability to create anything from insanely catchy guitar riffs to touching piano ballads is used to Muse’s benefit, although one could argue that they somehow infused even more energy into their later albums. “Sunburn” fits this description, and it is mostly achieved through fast-paced classical piano notes that create a bubbling under the surface
effect before the arrival of the chorus. “Muscle Museum” is also a prime example of Muse’s energy, with a bass-heavy introduction that continues throughout as Bellamy blows the song wide open with a crunching guitar riff and epic falsetto:
Can you see that I am needing
Begging for so much more
Than you could ever give
And I don’t want you to adore me
Don’t want you to ignore me
When it pleases you
And I’ll do it on my own
The incorporation of more restrained guitar strumming in the bridge helps to highlight the song’s climax, showing an element of songwriting ability that developing artists are rarely cognizant of. Muse shows right off the bat that they know not only how to construct good music, but also how to arrange it.
The band also shows a knack for making slow, thoughtful ballads on Showbiz
. In most instances, they reveal this skill in small portions of otherwise grandiose rock songs. For example, the slower parts of “Uno” and “Overdue” illustrate Matthew Bellamy’s aptitude for piano balladry. One song in particular, though, stands at the forefront. “Falling Down” shows a sensitive side both musically and lyrically to Muse that isn’t present anywhere else on the debut, and it serves as a stepping stone to similar future songs such as “Ruled by Secrecy” and “Soldier’s Poem.”
The main issue that Muse encounters on Showbiz
is a lack of variation from the rather rigid aforementioned structure. Many of the songs have a tendency to follow the same formula: piano/acoustic introduction followed by an explosive guitar riff accompanied by Bellamy’s falsetto chorus vocals. It works extremely well in some songs (Showbiz, Muscle Museum) but falls rather flat in others, such as the closing track “Hate This & I’ll Love You.” As a result, the songs have a tendency to grow tiring and/or sound like they all mash together. When this occurs, each individual song becomes less memorable and the album as a whole suffers. With that said, a few songs stray from the formula and still manage to work simply because they are catchy as hell. “Fillip” and “Uno” are both prime examples, as their choruses seem to overshadow the technical aspects of the songs. That isn’t to say that they are poorly written, because it is actually quite on the contrary. These songs just show Muse coming into their own with music that is slightly more accessible, i.e. memorable. And I’ll be damned if that isn’t Muse’s exact forte.
As a whole, Showbiz
is a very focused debut album. In fact, it may be so focused at times that it forgets to branch out. While this may serve as one of the album’s few downsides, it also shows that Muse has the patience to construct quality songs that do not always attempt to rush to the climax, creating a more enjoyable listen in the process. Through the many talents of frontman Matthew Bellamy, as well as near-flawless execution from the entire band, Showbiz
displays a great deal of the diverse talents possessed by each member of the band. Perhaps more importantly, it gave Muse a solid foundation to start from as they began to ascend towards prominence.