Can one talk about the band Muse and not mention Radiohead? I doubt it, and I’m not even going to try.
For quite some time I’ve been wishing that Radiohead would go back to doing songs. You know, step back to The Bends and OK Computer eras, when their music was simultaneously melodic, adventurous and daring; fusing electronic space age modernity with the emotion of Thom Yorke’s twisty beautiful vocals that somehow tied the madness all together. OK, so Radiohead’s not gonna step back in time for me. But I’ve got the next best thing: I’ve got Muse.
Number One on the U.K. charts back in September, Muse’s third album, Absolution [Warner Brothers], is rapidly and justifiably garnering attention, as well as some radio play, here in the States. In true Radiohead style, Muse opens the CD with a track with a repetitive chorus of ‘this is the end’ (“Apocalyse Please”). Lead singer Matthew Bellamy’s vocals are so Yorke-like that it’s a little spooky, even down to the gulping breaths between words. I don’t want to criticize Muse for copying Radiohead, though. Rather, think of them as carrying Radiohead further in the direction they were headed back in 1996.
One of the strongest tracks, “Hysteria,” is an odd, rocking prelude to the next track, the dreamy, waltzing “Blackout.” “Butterflies and Hurricanes” is one of the more lyrically inspired songs; getting your head thinking while it does a busy, complex number on your body with rhythm. The album is full of orchestration—as in orchestra—violins and classic piano and God knows what else--but it’s not cheesy and over the top, the way some of the big touring bands of yesteryear (off the top of my head, I’m thinking Page and Plant) toted in an orchestra just to impress everyone with their big budget, and to beef up their latest rendition of “Kashmir”.
“The Small Print” has all the power of Radiohead’s classic, “Just,” sans that wicked peppiness of Jonny Greenwood’s guitar, and those wonderful, unexpected halts of sound Radiohead invented and everyone quickly copied until it was de rigour. I know, I know, I keep going back to compare. How can I help it?
The lyrics don’t quite hit with the spiritual punch of old Radiohead, but the music is right-on enough that I sure don’t care much. Besides, the guys in the band are young enough to make me believe they’ll get there. Muse’s “Thoughts of a Dying Atheist” is a beautiful track, and I don’t even know what it’s about (there’s another good Radiohead imitation).
What’s the future for Muse? Hard to say. They’re a treat today; but one wonders how long we’ll collectively want to listen to Radiohead before we’ll just decide to listen to the real Radiohead instead?