I don’t want to read too much into this but Muse were an awesome band when I lived in the UK. Then I left the UK and they went off the rails.
The rot set in with this, The Resistance, their fifth studio album, from 2009. Up to this point, each album saw Muse getting bigger and bigger, their sound solidifying into a massive wall of noise. Rock fans liked them, metal fans tolerated them, and when radio-friendly fourth album Black Holes And Revelations dropped in 2006, suddenly they were accepted by casual pop listeners.
The writing was always on the wall. When I saw them on their first tour, supporting debut record Showbiz, they wore t-shirts and jeans on stage. When I saw them on their second tour, supporting follow-up record, Origin Of Symmetry, they were still wearing t-shirts and jeans on stage. The next time I saw them, from the comfort of my television set, they were playing the Live-8 concert in Paris. Here, they looked like tour-guides from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
The band had sold out and employed the services of an image consultant. A stylist now chose the clothes they wore on stage.
Don’t get me wrong, The Resistance isn’t the worst Muse album to date. I think that accolade lands safely with 2012’s The 2nd Law, with 2015’s Drones a close second. But The Resistance marks the point where the band starts running out of ideas.
First track and lead single Uprising takes more than a little inspiration from the Doctor Who theme – the first time a Muse single sounded like anything other than a Muse song. United States Of Eurasia finds them channelling Gershwin via Brian May’s signature guitar sound and Queen’s trademark layered harmonies.
But most importantly, the album finds them plagiarising their earlier selves – the march of Uprising sounds like a reprise of Time Is Running Out. Unnatural Selection starts off sounding like Plug In Baby and ends up closer to Stockholm Syndrome. It’s all starting to feel very samey.
Fast-forward to 2017 and I don’t even recognise Muse anymore. I get promotional emails from them, and it’s hard to take them seriously. Is this an email from a rock band, or a trendy men’s clothes store?
The thought of Muse as a world-conquering rock band seems like such a distant memory. The last couple of studio albums have been mired in a horribly tepid Europop sound. Matthew Bellamy used to write guitar riffs that would genuinely give me goosebumps. Now my default bodily response is to retch at the image of bassist Chris Wolstenholme in a leather jacket stolen from mardis gras.
But…what’s this? Muse have a new record out? And lead single Something Human sounds almost like the classic Muse of days gone by? The artwork for the new album looks terrible – and highly derivative of a lot of things, not least the cover of recent compilation Rise Of The Synths – but my fingers are crossed anyway.
Most importantly, the most recent publicity photo of the band – a moody side-lit shot, no-doubt influenced by Robert Freeman’s With The Beatles cover image – shows that the band are possibly returning to their roots…
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