Freddie Matthews writes from London: It’s just two whole days short of 13 years since British progressive rock band Muse released their debut album Showbiz back in 1999. At that time the music industry and the band Muse had a totally different feel and sound and many critics said they initially sounded far too similar to the then riding high in their careers Radiohead. Then again that might in part be due to both bands sharing the same inspirational producer in John Leckie.
The late 90s was a time when Radiohead were about to embark on their experimental phase: a little like Muse are now but we’ll get to that later. This rocky, talented and inspirational new band called Muse rolled up on to the British music scene. They almost filled the Abingdon in Oxfordshire band’s shoes, if not their two sizes too small sandals initially for the first album but it was all very promising.
Muse entered the British album charts with their debut album Showbiz on 4 October 1999 at number 29, while Radiohead had just shifted almost 5 million copies of their top 10 in 9 countries third album OK Computer. For Muse the success would build gradually but then they had already been together for 8 years, during which time they toured extensively, won local battle of the bands’ competitions, released their Muscle Museum EP and worked hard to create a whole new British fanbase and music scene.
In 2001, after the release of Muse’s second album Origin of Symmetry the band had a coming together with Celine Dion because the name of their band conflicted with the name she wished to call her Las Vegas show. She offered them $50,000 for the rights to the name but they turned it down. They didn’t want to be known as Celine Dion’s backing band for the rest of their as yet unknown future career. Celine was eventually forced to back off, as the band wouldn’t shift and the money didn’t interest them in the slightest.
The 2nd Law is the 6th studio album from the Teignmouth in Devon, England, band Muse. It’s been less than three years in the making and is the follow up to the hugely successful The Resistance album, their most successful album to date. The Resistance was also the first time we were to hear Muse sounding oh so similar to Queen, a style they have developed even further on this brand new album. That’s the problem for me. Gone is the new and cool sound, constantly and progressively challenging the boundaries of musical reality. Instead we’ve been left with a tepid fuzzy warm feeling, as if too much has been smoothed over to help please the majority. They have lost their edge and all that remains is a band trying to create a new sound without utilising even the ashes of former album incarnations.
Muse have openly said that they have drawn a line under their former selves. That band sound has changed. I’m sure they think for the better but I couldn’t disagree more. What they have done to us hardcore fans is exactly what Radiohead did but only from their fourth album. At least you could say that Muse waited until the sixth album to take an abrupt and uncharacteristic change in musical direction.
I’m sure the brand new sixth album, The 2nd Law, will sell but to be honest even if they went ‘country music’ on us it would still shift stock like nobody’s business, simply because they are Muse and have amassed a huge worldwide fan base.
Give me one of the older albums any day. Such as their excellent 2001 Origin of Symmetry which included an amazing cover version of ‘Feeling Good’, the song which was originally a huge hit for Nina Simone in 1965, or their 2006 album Black Holes and Revelations which became the album that the USA audience picked up on for the first time. That album alone sold over 4 million copies.
You could say the The 2nd Law is a kind of second coming or second incarnation of Muse but by totally alienating their fanbase of the last 13 years I really have to wonder what their expectations are. Yes, there will be a worldwide tour and if you haven’t seen them live yet, yes you absolutely must go because they are fabulous showmen live. However if I hadn’t got The 2nd Law from the record company (for free) I honestly wouldn’t have bothered buying it.
I never thought I’d say this about a Muse album but a sad 4 out of 10. And that’s me being generous.