Muse are a young trio from Devon, already held in some regard by Radio One's Steve Lamacq, and "Uno" is their third single and first for Mushroom, the same label as Garbage are signed to, it's probably worth noting. The lead track is an angsty device that's equal parts Radiohead (wailing Thom Yorke vocals), Portishead (chilly, film soundtrack-esque guitar stabs) and Russian folk music (the melody). It might not snag you on first listen but repeated plays reveal a surprising depth, underlined by the involvement of John Leckie, whose CV reads like a who's who of great British rock bands (including the likes of The Fall, Pink Floyd, The Stone Roses and Radiohead). The two so-so b-sides don't detract from the fact that "Uno" is one of depressingly few genuinely impressive singles to come my way from relatively unknown bands, and as a consequence deserves your attention.
MUSE Cave (Mushroom/Taste)
Muse's second major label single release is another slab of angsty early-Radiohead-style complaint rock with a vaguely Eastern European tinge, all chunkily helmed by fabled producer John Leckie. Not fantastically groundbreaking, but Id much rather listen to this than "Pablo Honey", and there are enough interesting signs of development - for example the mellowed-out entirety of "Falling Down", which despite (or perhaps because of) sounding not a little like "Subterranean Homesick Alien" being sung by Jeff Buckley is probably their most impressive song yet - to suggest that they'll arrive at a sound entirely their own sooner rather than later.
MUSE Plug In Baby (Mushroom/Taste)
Temporarily flummoxed by Radiohead's retreat into borrowed electronica, Muse are on their own for this new single, their first batch of new material since the release of their debut album. So vague Eastern leanings and Jeff Buckley-lite vocals seem to have been ladled on to the band's workmanlike complaint rock, which is nevertheless as unmemorable as anything else I've forgotten by them. Put it this way my pesky CD-ROM drive, possibly confused by the presence of the promo video of the main track, insists on repeat-playing this single, and it usually takes me at least 30 seconds of the first track to notice. Can that be good?
One of the extra tracks, "Execution Commentary", manages to remain in the mind a little longer, chiefly by virtue (if that's the right word) of its serrated production, but even here Muse find themselves treading on a whole wardrobe of coat-tails, from the mighty At The Drive-In all the way down to provincial pretenders like Mclusky and Sludgefeast.
MUSE Origin Of Symmetry (Mushroom)
I was all hopped up to hate the second album from this Devon trio, and on first listen all my deeply-rooted prejudices were confirmed. Having carved out a niche as Radiohead copyists with their debut long-player "Showbiz", it seemed as though with "Origin Of Symmetry" they had blindly piled on the preposterousness in the vain hope that it would accidentally-on-purpose generate the same kind of coherent examination of the horror of the human condition that their mentors achieved with "OK Computer". Case dismissed.
But on subsequent plays doubts began to creep (pun unintended) in. Yes, "Origin Of Symmetry" is laden with all the mock theatrics of an early Queen or Alice Cooper album, and Matthew Bellamy's songwriting appears to be fixated with some kind of "Bladerunner"-esque futuristic emotionless landscape that offers precious little that will resonate with those of us still sucking in the here and now: compare and contrast with Radiohead, who, even at their most avant gardening are still dealing with modern life and rubbish. Nevertheless there are moments here to appreciate, if not necessarily love. Bellamy's singing voice, for example, sounds like a replicant of Jeff Buckley's drunken guttersnipe choirboy: no human soul at the centre of it, of course, and so brittle it could shatter at any moment, but able to track the swoops and hollers of the real thing with uncanny precision. Most of the eleven songs are at least gifted with some tantalising introductions - surely there's a killer house track just struggling to escape from the first few seconds of "Bliss", for example. The quieter moments, such as the eye of the storm that is "Citizen Erased", pleasantly suggest the Enossification performed on Genesis' "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway". And, beneath all the craggy, jagged guitar work and the absurdly portentous lyrics there are probably some rattling good tunes buried deep in the album's gleaming black architecture.
I can't see myself pulling "Origin Of Symmetry" off the shelf much for entertainment purposes in future. But there's something here that has established hooks in my psyche and won't let go too easily. It's unfortunate, then, that the limited edition double vinyl pressing sounds so awful, toppling over into horrible distortion whenever proceedings get heavy which they frequently do.
MUSE Black Holes And Revelations (Helium-3/Warner Bros.)
Back in the day, you could safely tag Muse as Jeff Buckley/Radiohead wannabes (um, just like Coldplay, oddly enough) and move on to something more interesting, like a State River Widening 7. But on their fourth studio album, Matt Bellamys boys influences are all over the place: opener Take A Bow is very, very Philip Glass-y, and the piano work on Hoodoo is, shall we say, aware of Rachmaninoff.
That doesnt necessarily make Black Holes And Revelations any good, of course; in fact, its still as much of a slog to get through as any of their other albums, arguably even more so because, weighted down by its Nationwide Mercury Prize: an album of the year sticker (cunningly omitting to mention which year its supposed to be an album of) and an insert that explains in seven different languages, mark you - how to buy Muse ringtones, Black Holes And Revelations announces itself as an important musical event that you should feel grateful and privileged to be granted an opportunity to experience.
Course, it fritters all that hype away with vague proselytising and faux political lyrics that make Chris Martin sound like Billy Bragg, and music that appears precision-tooled to soundtrack films that predominately feature very expensive explosions. These songs seem bereft of heart, soul or even a human pulse, genre exercises performed by androids. Even when Muse peel back the absurdity for the sweetly sighing, incongruous lullaby Soldiers Poem or the jazzier moments of Hoodoo it sounds like something conceived in a test tube, heavy with quotation marks. At the albums absolute zenith, Starlight has the chiming melodiousness of the last Mew album. Tipping the other end of the scale, well, if theres a remake of Waynes World round about 2020 Knights Of Cydonia is a shoe-in for the in-car headbanging scene.
Muse should perhaps be congratulated for at least attempting to parcel the ambition and grandeur of prog into radio-friendly four minute servings, but if you cant be brainwashed into finding the albums air of portentuous panic breathtakingly epic youll probably be on a loser with Black Holes And Revelations. Now, how about a Suppers Ready ringtone?