Release Date: 26 Aug 2022
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Here's another major modern British rock band from the big mainstream gap in my knowledge. I'd bumped into Radiohead often, but somehow avoided people like Coldplay, Muse and Placebo, with the erroneous belief that they were simultaneously alternative and popular, which my brain can't compute. I should have checked them out long ago, of course, but too many bands, too little time. Apocalypse Later Music is giving me the excuse to do that now and my ears are being opened.
Of those bands, based on their most recent releases, I think Muse have to be my favourite. They're just as rooted in the music of Queen than the Darkness and, given who plays drums for the latter, I would suggest that's really telling. And they take every aspect from Queen, including the diversity that underpinned everything they did. Liberation is surely the most obvious nod to them this time out, from the Freddy Mercury-esque solo piano and vocal opening to the operatic vocal harmonies as it builds, but it's hardly the only one. Just listen to the guitar solo on You Make Me Feel Like It's Halloween and tell me that's not taken right out of the Brian May playbook!
In fact, Queen are all over this album, even if they're clearly not the only influence the band wants to channel. They're there on the opening title track, a stomping old school glam rock anthem, as if we're right back on Top of the Pops with the Sweet and Mud and the other legend from the era we don't mention any more. There's definitely some John Kongos in there too and some gospel too, a hand clapping pop take on it like Spirit in the Sky. It's impossible to ignore.
They're there on Verona, an emotional pop song driven by a Queen-like keyboard line that just has to have been somewhere on The Works, especially with the beat that joins it halfway through, and with another soaring vocal from Matt Bellamy from owes plenty to Mercury. They're there on the closer, We are Fucking Fucked, which, as its title might suggest, is as alt rock as this gets, but it's a grower, moving from a brooding tone into a Prodigy-esque celebration. It's the staccato nature of the backing vocals during the frantic breakdown at the end that's most Queen.
And, of course, they're there in Liberation, which is so Queen that it's shocking to acknowledge it's not a cover. The falsetto notes Matt Bellamy hits surely aren't as natural for him as they were for Mercury but he's certainly able to do the business and make them work. It's fascinating to hear a band that is so obviously influenced by one band but who take so many different aspects of their sound. The four songs I've mentioned are from different genres, but they're all Muse and they all have roots in Queen.
That ought to highlight how Muse aren't one trick ponies and the diversity on show here goes far beyond the songs I've mentioned. Compliance is arena pop, with slicing electronica, even with the rock beat and escalation like a rock song. Won't Stand Down is another pop/rock song that heavies up as it goes, which seems to be a habit for Muse. Ghosts (How Can I Move On) does that too, from being a ballad with a piano like a waterfall to being a clear power ballad.
That electronica trawls in a lot. We can almost hear the light show behind Compliance. Euphoria is poppy and driving and European. You Make Me Feel Like It's Halloween adds an organ to the Euro disco mindset, which is fascinating, especially when you add some Michael Jackson too. It's a funky take on the season and it surely has to end up with an animated video. And, as mentioned, there's plenty of crystal clear piano here too. It looks like Bellamy isn't merely the vocalist but the guitarist and the keyboardist too. He does a heck of a lot here, though there are other band members: Chris Wolstenholme on bass and Dominic Howard on drums.
Kill or Be Killed starts out with the most intense electronica and remains heavy otherwise, easily the heaviest song on offer. Initially it's simultaneously edgy and catchy like System of a Down, but it calms a little except for a frantic beat from Howard, and then crunches in with heavy guitar. The heavy riff in the second half reminds of a slow part from early Metallica and that's a clearly metal guitar solo too. Muse may get so poppy that they reach disco but they get heavy too. They have an impressive range and that's what I like about them the most.
And so, yet again, after concentrating so much on discovering obscure gems of bands to introduce to the world (and me), I find myself late to a mainstream party. This is Muse's ninth studio album and they've been huge since their second, Origin of Symmetry in 2001, so I have no excuses, but I'm very happy to have finally started to catch up.
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