Tag Archives: Showbiz

Rocks In The Attic #710: Muse – ‘The Resistance’ (2009)

RITA#710I 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.

Live 8 - ParisThe 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 OutUnnatural Selection starts off sounding like Plug In Baby and ends up closer to Stockholm Syndrome. It’s all starting to feel very samey.

RITA#710aFast-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…

Hit: Uprising

Hidden Gem: Exogenesis: Symphony Part 3 (Redemption)

RITA#710b

Rocks In The Attic #610: Muse – ‘Origin Of Symmetry’ (2001)

RITA#610.jpgThis is it. This is the one. Out of all of the albums I got behind during my twenties, this is the one that resonated with me the most. It still strikes a nerve today, sixteen years later.

I seem to remember the very late ‘90s being a desolate wasteland in terms of guitar rock. The homemade ethic of Grunge had drifted into stadium-filling Alternative Rock, but the punk vibe was still very much there. It was almost a crime to be proficient at playing the guitar. That’s just not cool, man.

The turn of the century gave us the Strokes and the White Stripes, both bands making guitars cool again. But for all their posturing, both of these American imports still took a simplistic approach to guitar playing; Jack White from garage rock, blues and folk, and the Strokes’ Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. from the New York City New Wave of Television, Talking Heads and Blondie.

Something far more interesting was happening in England. I had heard tales of a Devon band featuring a hot-shot guitarist with dazzling effects pedals. By the time I finally heard their first record, Showbiz, in 1999, I was an instant fan but I wasn’t bowled over. Sunburn was an awesome song, but there was a fair bit of mediocre filler throughout the record.

Fast foward a year or so, and a friend passed me an advance promo single for Plug In Baby. I played it that night during my DJ set at 38 Bar, and instantly fell in love. I hadn’t heard such an off-kilter guitar riff since Randy Rhoads’ Crazy Train. This Bellamy kid definitely wasn’t hiding behind those pedals.

The next day, I drove (for no particular reason) over to Hadfield, the Royston Vasey of The League Of Gentleman. I played the song over and over in the car, and just couldn’t get over how good it was. It felt like it had been written for my tastes in mind.

Thankfully the rest of the album was much stronger than its predecessor. New Breed and Bliss were both riff-heavy, and there was even a heavy cover of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good introduced with a lovely bit of Wurlitzer piano. The record does get a little tired towards the end – a good 15 minutes could have been shaved off to make a truly awesome 35 minute record – but it was still a damn sight stronger than Showbiz.

I saw the band tour this record at 2001’s V Festival in Staffordshire. They headlined the second stage, and I managed to get up close to the front. After the set, I turned round to walk back to my tent and realised how many thousands of people had also been watching. This little band I had followed for a couple of years had grown beyond my expectations. I wouldn’t seem them again until 2010, touring album number five.

Hit: Plug In Baby

Hidden Gem: Hyper Music

Rocks In The Attic #430: Muse – ‘Showbiz’ (1999)

RITA#430I used to be a big fan of Muse. Right from the first album too – essentially ever since I read in the NME about a guitarist with crazy effects pedals in an up and coming band from Devon. Then I heard Sunburn in a club somewhere and I was hooked. Muse to me sound like the natural progression of Radiohead if they had gone in that direction after The Bends rather than the avant garde bullshit they swapped their guitars for.

I was lucky enough to see Muse touring this album; a mid-afternoon set on the Other Stage at Glastonbury in 2000. I would see them touring the second album too, and then I stupidly overlooked their headlining slot at Glastonbury touring the third album (but that’s another story altogether).

The Radiohead comparisons are inevitable, with this debut record being produced by John Leckie, producer of The Bends. Showbiz – the title song – draws the most comparisons with Radiohead, borrowing the ominous slow-burn they perfected across The Bends and OK Computer.  I remember being stood at festivals when Muse first came out and listening to people trying to pigeon-hole them. “They’re just Radiohead in different clothes.” “Nah, they’re Queen for the 21st century.” Whatever. It’s a shame that when bands come out, they just have to be put into a box. People can’t just accept that a band exists on its own merits. But then once a band is accepted, that band is then used as a comparison for newer bands. “Royal Blood? They’re just Muse mixed with the Black Keys, aren’t they?” Ad infinitum.

The great thing about Muse when they started out is that they were a solid package right from the get-go. If you look at that Glastonbury set from 2000, Matt Bellamy has all the vocal histrionics down pat. This wasn’t something he developed over time (like Chris Martin’s woeful hopping on one leg holding his ribcage with one arm). It was also nice to see Bellamy dive into the drum kit, hanging onto bass player Christopher Wolstenholme’s back, at the end of the set too. It was things like this that made me sit up and realise that rock and roll was coming back, after a few years anxiously waiting for Britpop to go through its final death rattles.

Hit:  Unintended

Hidden Gem: Fillip