Tag Archive: Muse


This article first appeared at No Ripcord on October 5th, 2012.

Late last year, Matt Bellamy jokingly described Muse’s new album as “christian gangsta rap jazz odyssey, with some ambient rebellious dubstep and face melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia.” Little did we know that the resulting record, The 2nd Law would be far closer to that statement than thought possible. This is Muse’s kitchen sink record. Does it work? Ehhhh….

One giant plus is that the album continues the band’s tradition of really strong openers. The first three songs here make for a powerful way to kick things off. Supremacy is the anthem of the Muse nation, as blasts of brass echo over an aggressively-tuned guitar. Regal drums and nationalist strings sweep across the musical landscape as Matt Bellamy gentle sings about the end of someone’s supremacy (The West? Humanity? It’s never quite clear.) Sure, the lyrics are his typical conspiracy nonsense, but the glass-shattering falsetto makes it worth it.

Madness is the natural evolution of The Resistance’s Undisclosed Desires. The electronically-fused torch song features a stuttering repetition of the title in the background as one of the catchiest grooves on the album. The embryonic vocal layers keep building on top of each other as the song slinks forward. From there, Panic Station fuses together the sound of Prince and Chic to make a funky body-mover. Bellamy’s energy here is so kinetic, it’s impossible to listen to this song without moving along with the music in your seat. He bursts from falsettos yelps to spit-out shouts.

From there, the album loses both cohesion and quality. Olympic-theme song Survival is absolutely absurd, even by this band’s standards. If there was a song to precede We Are The Champions victory dance, it’d be Survival’s competitive stride. There’s epic piano playing, epic guitar soloing, battle drums and even a full-blown choir. It’s so ridiculously Muse-like that it’s impossible to not enjoy. Then again, it’s also tough to not laugh at it.

Follow Me wastes a bubbling electronic verse with an eye-rolling, generic dubstep chorus. While that choice may sink half of the song, it’s not as bad as the sheer stupidity of The 2nd Law: Unsustainable. Racing strings are drowned out by a fake news reporter speaking about the energy problem on our planet. Her words are interrupted by a robot growling out “Unsustainable!” while the band attempts to mimic the dubstep drop with real instruments. You’ll hear it once and never want to listen to it again. In terms of non-dubstep missteps, Explorers sounds so such like Black Holes and Revelations’ Invincible that you can sing its lyrics over this track without any noticeable errors.

If there’s a ringer on this record, it’s Chris Wolstenholme. The bassist both wrote and sings on two of the LP’s best tracks, Save Me and Liquid State. The former stands out due to Wolstenholme’s gentle vocals, refreshing after the relative assertiveness of Bellamy’s shouts and falsettos. The latter is centered around a rip-roaring riff that makes you want to burn along the highway. It’s the closest Muse gets to their early sound.

The 2nd Law is a love-it-or-hate-it record. It contains some of the best songs Muse has done in recent memory, but also the worst. Unlike The Resistance, this album is memorable enough and has enough high points to warrant a purchase. Just don’t expect anything to come close to the music that made them famous.

6/10

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on August 3rd, 2010.

Muse may continue to impress folks with their flashy light shows and spacey music. But their sense of humor isn’t too far off. Go to YouTube, search for “Muse funny moments” (my favorite is drummer Dominic Howard’s Slipknot imitation), and you’ll see that the band members tend to tap into their inner clown from time to time. Much like any self-respected comedian, they particularly dislike being told what to do by higher-ups. In fact, they are so against any type of interference in their music that they left their U.S. label, Maverick, after being asked to remove Matt Bellamy’s falsetto from multiple tracks on Origin of Symmetry.

Fortunately, the type of musical interference we’re talking about here is far less serious. Apparently, at several TV talk/music shows in Europe, it’s customary for the musical guests  to mime to a backing track. Muse doesn’t buy into this. Not at all. So they did what they could to stick it to the producers. Taking a note from Nirvana, the trio made their lip-syncing as obvious and hilarious as possible on the BBC.

In 2001, Muse appeared on the soon-to-be-canceled children’s series Live & Kicking to play their then-current single “New Born”. The BBC producers told the band that they had to pretend to play their instruments and that there couldn’t be any live vocals as well. So how does Muse respond in the performance video? Well, for starters, Bellamy spends the piano intro gliding his hands over the keys randomly. In case that didn’t get the message across, he soon starts waving his hands in the air, nowhere near the keys he’s supposed to be playing. Once the guitar kicks in, Bellamy makes some of the most exaggerated gestures possible during the intro riff and then spends the verse with his hands in the air while the rapid guitar section plays out of the speakers. Oh, and bassist Chris Wolstenholme switches places with Howard.

The best part of this video is just how absurd Bellamy’s behavior is. He holds his guitar upside down, randomly gestures to the audience, and literally rolls around on the floor for the last 30 seconds. Howard gets in some good moves too, as he jumps around, strumming the bass like a guitar.

Muse revisited these antics later on another TV series, including the famous performance of “Uprising” on an Italian TV show about football (Why Muse was performing on a football show, I have no idea) during which all three band members switched places, with Bellamy on drums, Howard on bass, and Wolstenholme on guitar. They not only did this for the song but for the short interview afterward, too. Both of these performances should serve as a warning to future TV producers. Let Muse get on with the show. Otherwise, they’ll embarrass you and have a laugh for themselves.

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on March 8th, 2010.

Muse’s campaign for The Resistance got off to a bumpy ride last year, everything from lukewarm reviews to mixed fan reactions. Filling a live set with material off the new record for their current tour looked like a move that could only hurt them. Luckily, Muse rose to the occasion, both figuratively and literally, with a dazzling audio-visual show that pleased both hardcore and casual fans.

Upon entering the arena, it was difficult to tell what type of show fans were going to get. Most of the stage was shrouded by curtains. Opening act the Silversun Pickups quickly drew the attention away from the mystery stage and onto themselves with a blistering set of their biggest songs. The excitement of playing in the Garden certainly helped pump up their usual high-energy performance, especially that of frontman Brian Aubert, whose vocals were even better than the high-quality trackd he lays down in the studio. Unfortunately, Muse’s staging did impact the Silversun Pickups since it completely blocked fans behind the stage from seeing any of SSPU. Despite this, by the end of their set, they had everyone in the arena cheering them on like they were the headliners.

After a short wait, the lights went down in the arena and appeared behind the curtain. People could be seen climbing a stairway behind the curtain as the intro music swelled and Muse crashed into last year’s single, “Uprising”. The curtain dropped, revealing the band standing on three separate pedestals — really LED screens. Rectangular blocks hung from the ceiling, spouting out the same near-overload of visuals. The crowd welcomed both “Uprising” and the next song, “Resistance”, as if they were classic Muse numbers and the band played to support this theory. The one-two opening punch — arguably some of the strongest material culled from The Resistance — came to life onstage and vastly superseded its studio versions.

At this point, it looked like the band may have remained on their pedestals all night, which would have been disheartening for the fans on the floor who waited since 6 am to see Muse. Fortunately, the platforms slowly moved down to the stage as “New Born” started. Once they reached floor level, the song really kicked in as Matt Bellamy slid across the stage in trademark rock star fashion. The band followed this fan favorite with “Map of the Problematique” and “Supermassive Black Hole”, which sent the crowd into a frenzy that continued the entire night.

Hits and fan favorites from past albums were interspersed with material from their latest.  This was a very smart move on Muse’s part, since a string of new songs could have put a damper on the entire set, especially during filler tracks like “Guiding Light”. Instead, the opening duo contained the only two Resistance songs played back to back.  Everything else was spread out with both hits (“Hysteria”) and rarities (“Nishe”) playing to different parts of the audience.

                                                                                                           (Photo by Dana Grossman)

In terms of performance, everything was perfect. From the trippy, sci-fi visuals that accompanied every song to the massive amount of talent displayed, Muse had their entire show down and they knew it. They played with a sense of professional technique yet still managed to showboat and run around the stage on nearly every track. The jam sessions were another highlight, with Bellamy playing a quick version of Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker”, then giving up the spotlight so Christopher Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard could engage in a bass and drum session.

The only weak song choice was the decision to have the nearly seven-minute Resistance track “Unnatural Selection” close the main set. The song is relatively unknown and way too long — which killed the momentum the band had built through the entire night. Any of the three mega-hits played right before it (“Starlight”, “Time is Running Out”, and “Plug in Baby”) would have worked much better.

The three-song encore was as equally epic, starting off with a stunningly beautiful rendition of “Exogenesis: Symphony, Part 1: Overture”. From there, Bellamy let his last guitar notes echo out into the arena until he switched into a heavy, heavy version of “Stockholm Syndrome”. There was only one way left for Muse to top this performance.  It started with a harmonica.  Wolstenholme stood on stage alone, playing the classic “Man with the Harmonica” from Once Upon A Time In The West. The rest of the band joined in playing the number before Bellamy’s wordless yells signaled the start of “Knights of Cydonia”. While it made for a good opener on Muse’s last tour, it works even better as a closer, combining many of the band’s best elements and ending with one of the best live solos of the 21st century.

Two hours passed too quickly, the house lights went on and the fans filed out, singing bits of different Muse songs. Friday night at Madison Square Garden proved why this band sells out stadiums in Europe and has such incredible success around the world, success that has eluded them so far in the States. But if their New York show was any indication, that will soon change. On this campaign, Muse has set out to conquer America. After seeing them live, it looks like they already have.

Setlist:
Uprising
Resistance
New Born
Map of the Problematique
Supermassive Black Hole
Guiding Light
Interlude
Hysteria
Nishe
United States of Eurasia
Feeling Good
Helsinki Jam
Undisclosed Desires
MK Ultra
Starlight
Plug In Baby
Time Is Running Out
Unnatural Selection

Encore:
Exogenesis: Symphony, Part 1: Overture
Stockholm Syndrome
Knights of Cydonia