Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Music: Muse, The 2nd Law and the rest

(This was supposed to be a review of the new Muse album, but I ended up just getting really Muse-nostalgic, so it is what it is…)

Back in what must have been 1999 one of my oldest friends in England, and as obsessed with music as I am, asked me if I had heard of this new band called Muse, because he thought that I would like them. Seeing as everything took a million years to get to France at the time he sent me a couple of EPs and their first studio album, Showbiz. He was SO right, for the next few months I was so obsessed with the album that I would play it over and over again, making all my friends fall in love with them too. There was one epic moment that I will always remember, going up to Chamrousse for the day to ski, 6 of us squashed in the car, driving back down to Grenoble on the (scary) roads right as the snow started to fall, listening to the album full blast and singing along to it, not knowing if we were going to stay on the road or plunge into the darkness down the side of a mountain. Once their second album, Origin of Symmetry, came out (which I bought immediately, including all the CD singles that came out with it), I think it was played in my apartment at least once a day, if not more, especially when we had parties and everyone demanded to listen to it once we were all drunk and/or stoned.

In any case, whenever I listen to Showbiz and Origin, even today, years later, it reminds me of my room in the apartment I shared in Grenoble with Maud, going to classes when we felt like it, writing papers and eventually that thesis, having parties in the apartment with copious amounts of beer and cigarettes and “vin chaud” that we would make on the stove with the cheapest red wine we could find (I still don’t know how we even drank the stuff, the fact that it was warm must have made it more bearable…). I can walk around the streets of New York listening to the songs and place myself right back there, with the same people, the same emotions and the same feelings. It’s always incredible how music never fails to be able to do that. I still play their cover of Feeling Good over and over again (the same song Nina Simone beautifully covered decades ago) when I’m feeling down and need something to remind me of happy times and places. And then I kind of lost interest when they released Absolution. I listened to it many times, but it never gave me the same feelings as the first two albums. When Black Holes and Revelations came out in 2006 I didn’t even bother to buy it, but the first single from the album, Supermassive Black Hole, seemed to follow me all around my 2 week tour of France and Italy, and I couldn’t help falling in love with it. They appeared to be making changes to their style, becoming louder and more on the progressive side of rock than just regular indie rock, creating music that should be seen performed in huge outdoor stadiums rather than mid-size venues. But to be honest, I don’t think I gave the album much time because I can’t really remember listening to it very often.

And then The Resistance was released in 2009. I listened to it over and over again on my ipod, walking to meet my friends for dinner, on the subway to work. More rock opera than anything, it just sounds SO good when you listen to it all in one go, especially when you are walking around the streets of New York. Uplifting and somewhat depressing at the same time, depending on the colour of the sky and the temperature of the wind hitting you. But I honestly can’t reconcile the Muse from 1999 with the Muse of today – they are like two different entities in my mind. Two different bands from different times. 

I was a little wary when I downloaded the most recent release, The 2nd Law. There was no way they were going to strip back again and go back to a less ambitious, sometimes over-the-top style (although that could be a good idea for a next album?). I was worried that it would be even more over-the-top than the predecessor, and on the first listen I realised I was right. Standing on the subway platform, waiting for the train, it hit me that I was either going to admit I loved it, or delete the download after the first listen because I was actually embarrassed about listening to it. I went with the former.

It’s SO over-the-top. But it actually works for some reason I can’t really explain. It’s definitely a follow on from The Resistance in both style and lyrics – while the previous album was all about rising up and taking back our lands and laws, The 2nd Law is about entering a new era post-revolution and surviving it. At times they sound like Queen, at times like Laibach (especially Survival), sometimes like Marillion, sometimes like the other Muse from before, sometimes like something else with a lot of classical opera influences. But in the end it all comes together as a whole and just works. I just don’t see how they can play each song separately live – I can only see the album as a whole rather than a set of separate songs that can be played between other songs from other albums. I guess that just comes from the whole thing feeling like a rock opera based on the ideas of utopia and dystopia and human nature and progress and downfall. It would be a great soundtrack to that book I recently read and wrote about here, America Pacifica.

I still haven’t seen them live, which I regret and don’t at the same time. Maybe this year… I’m a little obsessed with this album right now, I just can’t stop listening to it.

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