Of all the Radiohead clones, Muse is the most commercially – and, depending on whom you ask, critically1 – successful. Both groups are British alternative rock bands with nasal-tenor, eccentric, sadboy multi-instrumentalists who utilize electronic, symphonic, and progressive elements to create concept-albums-but-not-quite that discuss themes of political/social crises, disillusionment with the information age, and knotty intra/interpersonal relationships.2
Funny enough, Muse anticipated some of Radiohead’s career developments on 2003’s Absolution. “Blackout” would fit well on the Radiohead’s In Rainbows and is extremely similar to “Nude” with its waltzy time signature, string backing,3 and soft vocal harmonies. The electronic/alternative rock hybrid on opener “Apocalypse Now” is familiar to those who have heard Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief. Contrary to Radiohead, Muse utilizes a harder-than-normal alternative rock sound in addition to modern progressive: “The Small Print,” “Hysteria,” and “Time Is Running Out” use strong, crashing guitar leads; “Ruled by Secrecy” and “Butterflies and Hurricanes” feature prominent piano hooks. They’re mostly successful, if occasionally messy, especially on “Butterflies and Hurricanes.”
Matthew Bellamy’s lyrics are standard ruminations on misplaced love, depression, and rebellion; it’s a good thing his voice is catchy, because those lyrics are cringeworthy more often than they are thought-provoking. “Thoughts of a Dying Atheist” sounds like a fascinating concept, but all the listener receives is constant repetitions of the phrase “it scares the hell out of me / and the end is all I can see.” Otherwise decent “Endlessly” has “hopelessly / I’ll love you endlessly / I’ll give you everything / but I won’t give you up,” which might be cute for a middle schooler who doesn’t know any better but is creepy and horrifying to hear from a twenty-something. Accusations of copycat syndrome notwithstanding, Muse’s biggest fault on Absolution is Bellamy’s mistaking of obsession for romance.
Absolution has its issues, but Muse is not a bad band; in fact, they’re quite catchy and fun. If Matthew Bellamy didn’t try so hard to copy Thom Yorke’s style and didn’t write such hackneyed lyrics, Muse would probably be much more highly favored in independent music circles. Bellamy will be remembered for neither the experimentation nor the depth of songwriting of Yorke, but he does write genuinely engaging alt-rock anthems with just enough progressiveness to be interesting.
1. Into – (0:22) – ★☆☆☆☆4
2. Apocalypse Please – (4:12) – ★★★☆☆
3. Time Is Running Out – (3:56) – ★★★★★
4. Sing for Absolution – (4:54) – ★★☆☆☆
5. Stockholm Syndrome – (4:58) – ★★★★☆
6. Falling Away with You – (4:40) – ★★☆☆☆
7. Interlude – (0:37) – ★★★★☆
8. Hysteria – (3:47) – ★★★☆☆
9. Blackout – (4:22) – ★★★★☆
10. Butterflies and Hurricanes – (5:01) – ★★★★☆
11. The Small Print – (3:28) – ★★★★★
12. Endlessly – (3:48) – ★★★★☆
13. Thoughts of a Dying Atheist – (3:11) – ★★☆☆☆
14. Ruled by Secrecy – (4:52) – ★★★☆☆
1Check Metacritic scores for their albums at http://www.metacritic.com/person/muse?filter-options=music. The mean scores demonstrate a rather average critical reception, but that’s because individual critics give each album in Muse’s discography a glowing five-stars or a gloating one-star.
2This sentence should be taken outside and shot.
3Fun fact: the strings use the same chord progression as the “Karkariko Village Theme” from the Legend of Zelda games A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time.
4I absolutely hate useless intros like this. What purpose is there other than to pad track length?