Review Summary: While there are a few times Showbiz shines, almost every song on here is rendered obsolete by the wonders Muse would go on to make.
In 2009, Muse released a darkly paranoid album called the Resistance, which still had it’s happier moments. In 1999, Showbiz was released to mostly indifference. If Muse’s later albums are the sound of the band blasting off into space to explore the unknown, than Showbiz is the band realizing they have no money for gas on the car ride to the space station.*
The Muse on display for their debut album, Showbiz, is very misleading. The music of this album drops very few hints of the over-the-top space rock the band would eventually become famous for, instead focusing on typical rock lyric themes such as teenage angst and heartbreak. Their musical direction on Showbiz resulted in the band being compared many times over to Radiohead, most often in a very negative light. Pitchfork dismissed the band, saying, “Muse has to wait and see where Radiohead goes before they can follow the footsteps,” and NME said, “With Radiohead’s new album penciled in for some time next year, it seems Muse’s glory days are receding by the hour.” Showbiz isn’t necessarily deserving of such scathing reviews, however; while there are no songs in the vein of Knights of Cydonia or Plug in Baby, this is still a decent rock album.
Many fans of the band often hold Matt Bellamy’s guitar-playing in higher esteem than his piano skills, but Showbiz’s opening track proves that the band’s front man is equally skilled in both areas. Sunburn begins with a piano intro that is both menacing and almost Mozart-sounding. This song is a clear standout, and everything on this song (from it’s lyrical themes of the dangers of fame to the screeching guitar solo) give evidence to the powerful band Muse would eventually become.
Unfortunately, it gives just about the only evidence you’ll find. For the most part, Muse seems comfortable with being perfectly normal. Very few songs on this album even attempt to break the boundaries of rock, and can seem like an uninspired album as a result. Many songs seem to lack originality, and it’s easy to forget just how special and unique Muse eventually becomes on later albums while listening to songs like Fillip and Hate this and I’ll Love You. For some albums, it’s a complement to say that the entire thing is one song; Dark Side of the Moon and OK Computer, for example. It’s a different case for this album; all songs begin to sound the same, to the point where it’s hard to tell when one song ends and one begins. The angst and tortured-sounding vocals get so tiring, and only truly shine on a few songs.
Thankfully, several songs keep the fire of Showbiz burning strong. The aforementioned Sunburn sets things up nicely, and the momentum continues nicely with Muscle Museum. The bass-riff (while nowhere near as memorable as the ones Chris Wolstenholme would one day play on Futurism and Hysteria), gives the song a unique identity. Things continue nicely with a subdued guitar riff for the verses, and vocals describing the band’s difficulties in their early days. Suddenly, the song explodes with intensity as a highly distorted guitar blasts through the sound-barrier. This moment is very reminiscent of Nirvana, but Muscle Museum as a whole manages to break away from being tagged with that band with an ending ‘vocal-solo’ so distorted that it sounds like a guitar.
The third and final major highlight of Showbiz is it’s title track. This song literally defines the meaning of the word ‘build-up’, as the entire song slowly builds a level of intensity noticeably absent from a majority of the album. Matt Bellamy’s voice slowly transitions from deep chest voice to a level of falsetto very few singers can possibly achieve. His singing is the obvious standout on this song, and introduces us to the style of singing he would perfect on later albums.
There are no dance tracks on this album, no rays of sunshine. One of very few slightly-happy songs on this album is the beautiful acoustic ballad Unintended, a song about getting over depression to enjoy life. Showbiz is a very gloomy and gothic album, and at time stands at the complete opposite side of the musical spectrum when compared to their fourth album Black Holes and Revelations. The talent of every member is obvious after only one listen to this album, but you can’t help but get the feeling that it could have been better. Thankfully, the band improved on their second album, and built on their solid sound ever since. Showbiz is a simple rock album completely overshadowed by what the band released in their future, but several parts of it is still a good listen to this day. For those looking for a blend of Nirvana and Radiohead, this album will fit your needs perfectly. For the die-hard Muse fans (myself included), it’s great to use this album as a way of seeing how far they’ve come.
*(Sorry for that terrible metaphor. Haha, I couldn't help myself)