Muse- Pop Prog?

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Muse has been one of my favorite bands for a while now. In fact, they were probably one of my first introductions to the progressive genre, although I didn’t know it at the time. (My first real introduction to prog was through Rush when I was in sixth grade.) Over the years, Muse has been called many different things, including progressive rock, space rock, alternative rock (but what isn’t called that these days? Mumford and Sons is even called alternative rock. Ok.), and symphonic rock. Ok, so that all sounds like it fits nicely into prog. But there is one strange thing about Muse that does not quite add up. They are popular. Very popular, in fact. These days, it seems that if a band is popular across wide audiences and continents, they are making pretty bad music (there are obviously exceptions, and I am probably being too pessimistic), but Muse has been making excellent music for over ten years now.

Muse’s best albums are Origin of Symmetry (2001), Absolution (2003, with cover art by the great Storm Thorgerson- Dark Side of the Moon), Black Holes and Revelations (2006), and The Resistance (2009). Their first album, Showbiz (1999), and their most recent album, The 2nd Law (2012), did not thrill me, but maybe I should give them another go around. Their sound is defined by singer/guitarist/studio keyboardist Matthew Bellamy’s magnificent voice. Bellamy is also an artist on the guitar, able to manipulate it to make almost any sound he wants. Often times, what sounds like synthesizer on the album is actually guitar in concert. Christopher Wolstenholme is no slouch on bass either. Many of their songs feature bass as the melody driving the song (ex. Starlight off of Black Holes and Revelations). Dominic Howard on drums is also an excellent percussionist, able to deliver both hard rocking drum riffs along with quieter, more technical drumming. Their use of keyboards and piano, along with a symphony on The Resistance, showcases their ability to explore different areas of the musical realm. They are more than willing to experiment with many different sounds, and more often than not it is breathtaking. Their technical, musical skill is some of the best in the modern, popular rock world.

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Muse’s lyrics tend to deal with vague political ideas. They can be described as libertarian/anarchist, much like Rush. Origin of Symmetry deals with the dangers of new technology and what can happen when it is misused. Absolution is apocalyptic in nature, with songs ranging from the urgency of “Time is Running Out” to the symphonic beauty of “Blackout.” Black Holes and Revelations, probably their most popular album, deals with themes of science fiction and oppressive governments (Ayn Rand?). The Resistance discusses ideas of resisting governmental overreach, along with what the world would be like under a one world government. They end the album with a stunning three part symphonic piece that is very relaxing. All in all, Muse’s lyrics make the listener think, like all good prog should.

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Going back to Muse’s popularity, this is a band that can sell out arenas anywhere. From the 02 in London, to Lollapalooza in Chicago, Muse sells out venues to people who cannot get enough of their music. Is this a sign from God that the people are hungry for prog?! I certainly hope so. Deep down inside, every educated, thinking individual loves prog, and if Muse is a path by which millions of young people can be introduced to this wonderful genre, then more power to them. Here is to hoping that people listen to their Muse and are directed toward the beauty found in the genre of progressive rock.

2 thoughts on “Muse- Pop Prog?

  1. carleolson

    Good stuff, Bryan! Muse is one of my favorite groups; in fact, I’ve been working on a long piece about Muse for this blog, but it is a mess, so it hasn’t seen the light of day. I think one helpful comparison in understanding the massive popularity of Muse is this: Queen. Mercury, May, Deacon, and Taylor created music that was wildly divergent and eclectic, marrying a bunch of influences that didn’t seem capable of being married, and created songs born along by infectious melodies, riffs, beats, and anthemic/chant-along choruses (“We will, we will, rock you!”). Combine that with a theatrical and freakishly gifted lead singer (who, in the case of Bellamy, is a guitar god) and a dynamic rhythm section, and—ta-da!—you have a formula. Except, it really never was a formula for Queen as it isn’t for Muse; it’s more that they simply love to write singable songs and play for big crowds. The big difference, of course, between the two groups is in the lyric department. But, that said, I think Bellamy’s “us against them” songs (“Resistance”, etc.) do have something in common with Queen: think “We Are the Champions”, but with a slightly darker, more conspiratorial undertone. Anyhow, it’s fascinating. Oh, and the new DVD/CD of their summer 2013 show in Rome is simply jaw dropping.

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    1. bryanmorey94

      Thanks Carl! I hadn’t thought a lot about the connection to Queen, but that makes perfect sense. I often hear Muse compared to Queen, but since I was born after the death of Freddie Mercury, I never got to experience the heyday of Queen. I did, however, get to grow up in the heyday of Muse, which is still going on. I think that the darker tone to the lyrics, along with the heavier style of music that Muse plays (certainly heavier than Queen), can both be attributed to the fact that Muse came out of the 90s metal/punk era. Mainstream rock followed the path blazed by bands like ACDC, and that has completely changed the rock scene of today. Even Rush has been influenced by this, with every album since Vapor Trails being significantly heavier than any of their earlier material. I happen to enjoy some of the heavier bands out there, and it is interesting to see what bands like Muse do with that influence. Here’s to hoping that their next album is a good one. I heard something about it coming out in 2015.

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