- Artist: Muse
- Year released: 2001 on Mushroom Records and Taste Media
- Genre: Symphonic rock, prog rock
“Music has always been an escape for me, and when I play music it is like I don’t exist and everything becomes very simple and to me that is the only thing that actually is me. Music is my origin of symmetry and it is rationalising all the chaos.” – Matt Bellamy in an interview by Steve Lamacq
I’ve always wanted to write a proper review for an album that has been, in a sense, my musical compass in my 26 years of normal human existence.
- It has constantly guided me, like a ludicrous beacon of light, to my favourite type of bands or musicians (Suede, Kate Bush, the latest addition being David Bowie – although I can’t really explain how Muse’s music is related to them. Emotional excess perhaps?)
- How music, quite rightly, should make a person feel (a complex multitude of feels through a three minute roller coaster ride that is called a song)
- Music with a philosophical bend, or an emotional darkness (well hello Joy Division!)
I present to you, readers: Origin Of Symmetry.
As per usual, I like giving my non-existing readers a little description of the band behind the album. So here’s Muse in succinct bullet points:
- Muse is: Matthew Bellamy (vocals, general piano tinker, wannabe Hendrix machine), Dominic Howard (drums) and Christopher Wolstenholme (bassist, back-up vocals)
- They hail from Devon, but they were not born there – Matthew originally hailed from Cambridge, Dominic from Stockport and Christopher from Rotherham.
- Matthew is a classically trained pianist and guitarist. It explains all the Rachmaninoff rip-offs he did (I don’t see anyone accusing Muse of ripping off Rachmaninoff, strangely enough.)
- Muse stage amazingly huge shows that are a true spectacle to witness, from giant white bouncing balls to acrobatic dancers, and that inverted pyramid for The 2nd Law tour. I went to a gig once and their sound absolutely blew me away…
- Once described accurately as “three people who make a lot of noise” – Muse Under Review (YouTube seems to hate this video with a fierce passion, it was taken down the last time I checked.)
- “The band with the annoying fans!”, “Pompous twats!” and “Fooking Radiohead rip-offs!” – a casual search of the Internet unearths classic Internet hatin’, all paraphrased nicely to suit this blog
- Almost all of Muse’s music and lyrics surface from Matt’s reading material :the idea for Origin Of Symmetry comes from Hyperspace, which was written by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.
This album, coming from the underwhelming Showbiz two years earlier, represented a quantum leap in terms of musical diversity, and would also dictate their future musical directions (see Absolution, Black Holes And Revelations, The Resistance). The music was also imbued with a rawness, perhaps as a result of the experimentation, which would disappear and be replaced with the smooth sheen of commercialism as they slowly ascended to their current stadium king status in the early 10s’.
Origin of Symmetry is an opus of epic proportions, with hope, alienation, despair and insanity being the final theme of this mad opera. Matt retains the form of the classical composition in the music (he stages his own futuristic opera in Micro Cuts by singing in falsetto entirely – Mark Beaumont from the NME described his vocal on the song resembling “Maria Callas on crack” which I found hilarious) but adds tons of serrated guitar that twist and scratch, thunderous rhythmic bass in the form of Chris and thrashy drums that border on a bastardized punk/metal style in the form of Dominic to build up an overwhelming tour de force of dizzingly highs and dangerously plummeting lows.I think that’s what makes their music so addictive. Listening to Muse is like going on a goddamn roller coaster with more twists and turns than your poor GI tract. You feel the pain, but you feel amazingly alive.
Matt’s lyrics are fascinating because there’s no mystery in his lyrics if you take them at face value…or rather, if you took them at face value they sound cliched at best, or just downright bizarre (I’ve never understood “My plug in baby/ In broken virgin realities/ Is tired of living” from Plug In Baby, but the guitar kicks some serious ass) . However, the philosophical implications as a result of, or pertaining to the subject matter, while not obvious, are more fascinating because they hint at the darker aspects of the human nature and psyche in general. Add to that the instruments, which colour the lyrics and add an emotional depth thanks to the bombast of Matt’s piano-playing, informed by the inflamed passion of Berlioz and Rachmaninoff.
Space Dementia, with its gorgeous doomed piano intro famously rips off Rachmaninoff’s first movement of Piano Concerto No. 2 during the chorus, where Matt’s disembodied voice floats in the listener’s ears (if you’re using headphones). It’s a bit like David Bowie’s Major Tom persona looking on in horror as Earth is blown to bits by an alien spaceship, while he drifts on aimlessly in outer space.
In Citizen Erased (one of my favourite non-single Muse song) the guitar twists, bends and screeches before squalling to a stop, and Matt resignedly breaks into “Wash me away…” which seems to suggests a consciousness forced to submit against its will. Matt finally submits, his beautiful falsetto seeming to reach towards a peaceful transcendence upon accepting his ill fate…but Micro Cuts cruelly cuts in and snatches whatever hope that was previously lingering and sends him to Purgatory itself, with Chris’s urgent bass noodling coupling with Matt’s spiky guitar riffs and culminating into an explosive, bloodied finale.
Unfortunately two of the weakest songs appear towards the end – Screenagers and Darkshines sound really meh – bits of them sound amazing, like the spooky blues influence on the intro for Screenagers and the ghostly guitar bit for Darkshines, but they fail to develop into potentially interesting (read: goth-y sounding) songs.
But the wait’s worth it for Megalomania – Muse saved the most overblown, epic song for last. Remember how I mentioned insanity being the final theme? This is it. The final collapsing of one’s sanity and descending into madness has never sounded this triumphant.
I highly recommend you, my dear reader, to play this at full volume. You might love it or hate it.