While driving home yesterday, I switched on the radio and caught part of a BBC show called The Strand. The host (Mark Coles) and BBC Russian Service correspondent Anya Dorodenko were going back and forth about the band Muse. She loved them for their tendency to go over the top both musically and lyrically. Coles was having none of it, stating that music was a rehash of 1970s themes complete with immature lyrics.
Oh no, not the lyrics thing again!
See, that's one of the reasons I got into writing in the first place. There just were too many reviews out there that focused too much on the words and not enough on the music. I just hated it when the the last sentence would slide by with no indication of what the record actually sounded like. It's not that I completely ignore the words, it's just that the music has to grab me first. Even then, I tend to hear the lyrics not as a whole but more like short, asynchronous pieces of verse. Which words stick is a complete mystery to me. Some parts resonate and others don't. Weird, huh?
When I first heard Muse (only going back so far as 2004's Absolution), I thought they sounded an awful lot like Radiohead with nods to both Nirvana and Coldplay. Then came Black Holes & Revelations, still with echoes of Thom Yorke and Queen by way of Phillip Glass. Yes, I said Phillip Glass.
Gee, all of these names being tossed out. Shouldn't it be time to pull that tired reviewer cliché 'derivative' out of the reviewer bag of lazy? I suppose so, but in this case I hear a lot of what Muse does as being in tribute to their influences. Face it, when "United States of Eurasia" explodes from introductory ballad to full-on Freddie Mercury (and Brian May!) bombast, it's just too obvious to not be a tribute. Would Freddie have used some Chopin samples? Hell, yes! Plus, it's a load of fun. Does anybody remember fun?
Other 'derivative' moments on The Resistance: the opening "Uprising," delivered with a glammy synth swagger and periodic stabs of guitar; the moody anti-something anthem of a title track (love the Queen-ish "It could be wrong" refrains); "Undisclosed Desires" (close your eyes and think of Depeche Mode); and the very Bowie-like "I Belong To You." No wait, that was Queen again. Sorry.
That last song reminded me of how snotty critcs like to throw around the 'pretentious' word. "I Belong To You" is subtitled "+Mon Coeur S'Ouvre A Ta Voix." The snotty critic might joke that it means "I Love To Sing In French Because I'm A Pretentious Twat." I'd never do that. Besides, Matthew Bellamy actually culled and re-arranged material from Saint-Saens' opera "Samson and Delilah.? Some might call that pretentious, I lean toward 'ambitious.'
The Resistance ends with the "Exogenesis" symphony suite. Humans have destroyed the earth and are leaving to carry on the race elsewhere in the universe. I had my doubts but have to say that Bellamy wrote some pretty amazing orchestration here. It made me think of something that Sigur Ros might do if they "went big."
So, is Muse just rehashing their 1970s influences and running them through a modern prog blender? I don't think so. Even if they are, my ear parts like it anyway.