A couple months back, I talked about Mastodon, and how I never made time for their music. The same thing can be said for several other bands. Let’s look at Muse for instance. I don’t know that I can name one Muse song. Mind you, the internet is full of hate for Muse, from forums to Reddit to blog posts. Perhaps this hate is why I never explored Muse. I do know that Muse was on the Twilight soundtrack – that image alone probably kept me from exploring Muse. But I digress. It’s time for me to decide once and for all – does Muse deserve the internet hate? Should I recommend Muse? Should you listen to Muse?
Thought Contagion (2018)
On first listen to “Thought Contagion” (the tenth most listened to Muse song), I find myself conflicted. The opening comes out strong – wailing guitars, swirling BGVs. Wow – the intro to “Thought Contagion” makes me excited about the rest of the song. And then the lead vocals start.
The lead vocals sound forced, as though the lead singer wants to sound like a nu metal singer. Mind you, I have no real beef against nu metal as a genre. With that in mind, the nh metal bands that I don’t like usually sound like they’re trying to force their vocals in the same way I feel like Muse’s lead singer tries to force his lead vocals. I think the effect is supposed to sound angsty and tortured, but really the effect just sounds dumb and boring.
The lead vocals during the chorus however, I like these! Matt Bellamy uses a falsetto, paired with the same amazing BGVs and instrumentation from “Thought Contagion’s” opening. Essentially the only weak part of the song comes from the verses. However – the verses do take up 50 percent of the song’s real estate.
Time is Running Out. (2004)
“Time is Running Out” sounds nothing like “Thought Contagion.” Nothing. Honestly, I have trouble believing the two songs are from the same band. Granted, the two songs were released fifteen years apart from each other – so maybe Muse had a change in sound in between songs.
Muse uses a stripped down sound in “Time is Running Out,” especially in the beginning of the song. We barely hear a static ridden guitar and a few drums as Bellamy sings. Bellamy’s vocals sound natural and pleasant (unlike his vocals in “Thought Contagion”). Perhaps “Thought Contagion was just a fluke. Coming into the bridge of “Time Is Running Out” we hear an interesting, haunting piano part as Bellamy sings “You will be the death of me.” Nice ghastly effect there! I feel chills!
“Time is Running Out” explodes in volume and instrumentation with the chorus. Bellamy’s vocals sound urgent, though still not forced. The guitars scream, and the drums take on a quasi military cadence. The progression stays throughout the rest of the song (save for a refrain at the end).
The lyrics of “Time is Running Out” paint a picture of a dark timeline, perhaps a world on the brink of a nuclear apocalypse. The urgent vocals from the chorus (and the rest of the song) serves the picture of “Time is Running Out” well. All in all, while certainly not perfect – “Time is Running Out” gives me a tick in “yes – listen to Muse” column.
Knights of Cydonia (2006)
We start out Knights of Cydonia with over the top, extended, and maximized instrumentation. What almost sound like UFO noises, mixed in with horse neighs flow into western guitars as various keyboards play in the background. The next measure gives us a space guitar – what is this, sci-fi or western? Regardless – the opening promises an epic journey.
As the first verse starts, a fast cadence continues from the opening. The vocals jump into the song as though hopping a moving train or getting beamed to a grey’s space saucer!
Knights of Cydonia does not follow a typical verse / chorus / verse / chorus structure. After the first verse, we hear a few lines repeated “No one’s gonna take me alive…you and I must fight for our lives.”
So, what’s Cydonia? A region on Mars. With that little bit of information, “Knights of Cydonia” and the cross fading between the sci-fi and western genres makes sense. Knights of Cydonia talks about a journey to Mars, the new frontier and the new Wild, Wild West.
Earlier I said the intro to “Knights of Cydonia” promises an epic journey – the rest of the song lives up to this promise. “Knights of Cydonia” gives the listener a fun adventure to Mars.
Psycho begins with an extended guitar solo and a drop stop into the first verse. From there I kind of lost interest in the song. The instrumentation seems ok, as do the vocals. The lyrics sound ok, though they don’t make me want to analyze the lyrics any further.
You know what? I’m done with this song. It’s ok for background noise, and I wouldn’t auto skip it if the song came up on a playlist, but I also would not play this song intentionally. “Psycho” just seems too average and boring to invest any real thought, time, and feeling.
2012’s “Madness,” gives us the most stripped down song from Muse I have heard thus far. Granted – Muse does not do totally strip down the music. Muse does not (apparently) do acoustic guitars. So stripped down to Muse means a few keys and synths, a slower beat, and the guitars aren’t as loud as usual. Ultimately just a little more stripped down than a power ballad.
The sounds of “Madness,” though tiresome at first, actually compel me after a few listenings. The synth-laden vocals singing “ma ma ma ma mad madness” gets caught in my head. The ending chorus of the song progresses past the stripped down style of the first two thirds of the song, into a more produced sound. Female BGVs, lead vocals (reminiscent of Bono), heavy keys, and raw emotion seep from every musician involved.
I certainly expect to play “Madness” more. The song really gets to me. I would not want to hear an entire album of songs like “Madness,” but I would love to hear a couple more songs like “Madness.”
Citizen Erased (2001)
Citizen Erased reminds me of Radiohead on a good day. The instrumentation, particularly the guitar parts, sound a lot more fleshy than the rest of the Muse songs in this article. The progression from verse to chorus, and the change in volume and intensity also sound like a Radiohead song. Even the vocals sound kind of like Thom Yorke.
Mind you, while “Citizen Erased” sounds like Radiohead, the song brings its own unique qualities to the table. In fact, “Citizen Erased” shows me what Muse really does best – Muse expresses feelings and emotions through their music. The twists in tempo and volume jar me, but in a good way, because the emotions conveyed through these musical devices.”Citizen Erased” conveys confusion and an awareness that something is just not right.
The title track from Muse’s debut album, “Showbiz” starts out rather dronelike. We hear repeating vocals, repeating guitar chords, repeating drum cadences, and a dominant bass line.
Again, Muse sounds a lot like Radiohead – specifically from the OK Computer era. However, Muse differentiates themselves from Radiohead in the untidiness in their composition. Untidiness might sound like a negative thing, but in the case of “Showbiz,” untidiness serves as another tool to show the message of the song. “Showbiz” talks about trying to control feelings. The sloppiness – yet somehow controlled instrumentation and vocals conveys their emotional state. The listener gets a feeling of suppressed emotions – emotions that wish to run wild and free, yet for some reason need to be locked up tight.
At the same time, the subject matter of “Showbiz” seems a little sophomoric and even a little overplayed. So – while Muse executes the song well, the listener still feels like they already know this song.
“Uprising” (the most played Muse song on Spotify) promises exactly what the title of the song delivers – a song about revolution and uprising. The chorus chants give us everything we need to know about the song:
They will not force usUprising lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious
(So come on)
As far as sounds go, “Uprising” pleases the ear on many levels. “Uprising” starts with an almost Doctor Who theme groove. Throughout out the entire track, we have a minimalistic drum beat and a rhythm guitar. The vocals sound powerful and intentful. These powerful vocals especially shine in the chorus as we hear the chants “They Will Not Control Us, We Will be Victorious!”
A simple song, sure – but if you decide to listen to Muse, you should listen to “Uprising.”
Would I listen to Muse again?
Muse really is all over the place in style and quality of music. The band certainly knows how to play their instruments well, and Muse certainly knows how to capture emotion in their songs. Muse also loves to experiment – and that is both their greatest strength and their biggest weakness. Sometimes Muse’s experimentation results in transcendental space western rock epics, sometimes their experimentation results in boring songs which I decided weren’t worth my time. Muse also does not write super deep and insightful songs, and I like a little depth in my music.
Would I go see Muse live? Yes, but only if the price was right. I hear they put on an amazing show. Would I listen to Muse’s next album? Sure, I might give it a chance, though considering the material I hated the most was from Muse’s last album, I wouldn’t expect much. Will I listen to some of the songs I reviewed again? Ceritnaly! I really liked a couple of these songs.
So, should you listen to Muse?
The short answer – maybe. But if you chose to listen to Muse, don’t expect to like every one of their songs. Like I said before – Muse likes to experiment. Sometimes these experiments fail, sometimes they produce amazing results. So if you like any consistency in your music, you should probably steer away from Muse – or at least just stick to the top tracks and avoid the deep cuts. Fans of Radiohead, might really like Muse’s early songs. Then again, said Radiohead fans might feel like Muse borrows too much from Radiohead.
Honestly – Muse is one of those bands that might be worth it – so I say listen to a song. If you don’t like that song, hit skip, and listen to the next one. Eventually you will probably find one song you like. You just might have to dig a little to find that song.