This Tuesday (June 9), Muse release their seventh studio album Drones. Anyone expecting a radical rehaul of their essential sound, taking in the more recent developments in folk, grime and EDM, may be slightly disappointed, but everyone else will most likely be too busy having their brains blasted out of their eyesockets to pay any mind. It’s rowdy, it’s riddled with doomed romance, and it’s as brilliantly ridiculous as anything else they’ve done.
If you haven’t been listening to the band’s output recently, it would be wise to prepare your ears for the onslaught that is to come, and it is with this in mind that we present the following playlist of Muse classics. Think of it as the aural equivalent of doing stretches before embarking on a long run. Or just a good excuse to rock out as you go about your daily business:
“Knights of Cydonia”
Everything that you need to know about Muse is contained within the few minutes it takes for this video to play out. A perfect (and all too rare) fusion of sound and visuals, the unlikeliness of the space/cowboy/motorbike story more than matches the preposterousness of the music itself. We have massed choral breakdowns, Ennio Morricone twangy guitar and then a great big cinderblock riff set to a gallopingly sleazy beat. In one song they prove themselves to true heirs to Queen‘s throne: a band so unaware of the boundary between serious and funny that they became seriously funny, and all the better for it.
“Plug In Baby”
It’s not just about that corkscrew riff, although it is a mighty, mighty thing and deserves to be listed highly in any music site’s gatheration of greatest guitar riffs there have ever been. It’s not just that both Matt Bellamy and Chris Wolstenholme, his bass-playing chum, appear to be filtering their meaty organic music through some kind of squelchy robotic device, and it’s not Dominic Howard‘s severely unfriendly attitude towards his drum kit. The principal reason for including this song on any Muse Top 10 is simply that it is a love song from Matt Bellamy to his guitar. And it sounds like it.
“Time is Running Out”
The other thing Muse do really, really well is make their lyrical desperation at the state of the modern world sound sexy. Everything about this song suggests that it is the work of a writer at the end of his tether with everything, and yet the music suggests there are a couple of things he’d quite like to try in order to relieve his tension, and he knows just who he wants to do them with. So while the choruses are an exercise in yearning and doomed romance, the verses are slinky, strutting and cocksure. You come for the party and stay for the lecture.
Did I mention Queen? Yeah. The greatest trick Muse ever pulled off was convincing the world that they’re a proper serious rock band with maestro tendencies who would never lower themselves to take part in the constantly undulating groin parade of popular music. Which of course left them entirely free to make records that sound like the Scissor Sisters covering Frankie Goes To Hollywood without anyone yelling “Disco sucks!” at them even once. That’s genius.
“Supermassive Black Hole”
Of course, it does help with the romantic image of the black-clad rocker-poet if your slinkiest songs juxtapose sensations of sexual arousal—and here’s another song where the verses are on heat—with weightier, more scientific concerns. It takes a certain confidence to try and seduce anyone with a line like “Glaciers melting in the dead of night,” although the bit about superstars being sucked into something supermassive is probably open to eyebrow-waggling misinterpretation. How terribly vulgar.
There’s a far different kind of transition here. Matt appears first as an avenging wraith, soft, opaque and eerie, and then conjures up his thrillingly concrete band. There’s another riff of astonishment, played using brickbats for plectrums on guitars made of iron girders, and the ghost has become an angry giant with shoes made out of boulders and a beard of solid gorse. Stamp! Stamp! Stamp! And, all of a sudden, the bus you are sitting in, your headphones blazing away, has four flat tires and a dented roof.
This is from Drones and proves once again that there is no musical genre they won’t appropriate for their devious ends. In this case, there’s a definite ’80s electro backbone that then takes a swerve into the kind of soft and dreamy Jeff Buckley musical confections with which they began their career, only to be broken up with a camp shriek of the title every now and again. Whatever they’re up to, there’s rarely time to get comfortable.
It does take a brave—or possibly foolhardy—soul to write a song that takes the Doctor Who shuffle beat and then plays a high, keening melody over the top that recalls, well, the Doctor Who theme tune. But in this case the familiarity plays into the message of the song, which aims to make civil unrest feel not just angry and exciting but romantic, righteous and strengthening. It’s a musical recasting of one of the Doctor’s speeches setting out why it’s important to stand against those forces that would seek to overwhelm whole populations, only without the bits where he claims not to have a plan.
Another selection from Drones, this is a song that flirts with punkish thrash and a little off-beat ska guitar before settling down to more conventional Muse dynamics. By which I mean Eddie Van Halen guitar theatrics giving way to a sleazy rock drop and a chorus that appears to have been slightly pinched the pre-chorus bridge in George Michael‘s “Freedom ’90”. But wait! Listen to that glorious guitar solo. That’s an almost perfect blend of the three key elements of any good lead break: skronk (the atonal bits), wheedle (the fast bits) and wirrn (the bendy bits). And it goes on slightly longer than you’d expect, but stops just as it starts to run out of ideas. That’s class.
As we reach the end of this epic musical journey, it would be tempting to conclude with something soft and welcoming for the last lap, something that will feel both like a victory cuddle and an ice cold drink. But Muse are not a forgiving band. They may begin their benign songs in warmth and gentleness, with an undulating fuzz bass and stadium rock piano welcoming tired travelers to the Citadel of Pleasant Happenstance. But then they get a bit antsy, a bit aggro, and before too long they’re shaking the place to its very foundations with the power of (capital letters) ROCK. And they don’t tidy up afterwards.
Here’s the Spotify version, for the more experienced Muse listener.
Which song should make the #11 spot? Mark your answers “I can’t believe you left out ‘Muscle Museum’ and ‘Hysteria'” and tell us below:
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