Thursday, April 3, 2008


I picked up Muse's new live DVD on Tuesday, H.A.A.R.P. It is a mind-boggling picture of a band that has reached the pinnacle of rock and roll - their performances are flawless, the stage show is captivating, and their sonic presence is incredible. The fact that they remain a three-piece for most of their songs adds to the unbelievability of it all. But what really impressed me was their resonance with the crowd.

And by resonance, I mean the singalongs.

I don't think Muse would strike many people as a "pop" band, yet their rhythms and melodies get stuck in the brain, and their songs are easy to sing along to, even if you can't reach Matthew Bellamy's high range. What is probably more influential, though, is their lyrical content. The only area where comparisons to Radiohead can be even partly justified, Bellamy's lyrics tend to focus on conspiracies and paranoia. Even uplifting songs ("Invincible," "Starlight") have sinister undertones. And while Bellamy finds inspiration in contemporary subjects like aliens, government mistrust, and the scientific program their live album is named after, paranoia in music can easily be traced back to the blues, if not further.

You may be looking for the blues/paranoia connection, but it's there. What is the draw for so many people to blues music, and for that matter, any music with sad or depressing sounds or subject matter? Paranoia. Maybe your life is going great, but everyone can relate to a bluesman singing about a broken heart. And our paranoia causes us to revel in someone else's singing (whether based on real events or not) about such hard times: we like the reminder that things aren't so bad for us, but we also want to be prepared for when things get tough again (as they surely will). And, of course, we like feeling a little bit of sympathy for a sad troubadour.

When it comes down to it, we listen to music, and experience art in general, because of an artist's ability to better or differently express feelings and emotions we ourselves experience. Listening to music that can give us the creeps - or, alternatively, suggest a way to fight such creepy feelings - is a form of release. Even (especially?) if it's hearing Bellamy scream, "Our time is running out!"

Other recommendations:
Led Zeppelin's fourth album. Is there a better opening riff in rock music than "Black Dog"? I propose to you that there is not. The middle of the album has some high points too.

1 comment:

Ek said...

Although you're for the most part right about the invalidness of the Muse/Radiohead comparisons that happen, I'd actually really like to see them develop an epic band feud. Come on, there hasn't been a good feud between two popular rock bands - and I'm talking one that people would fight over - since Metallica/Megadeth, and that started in the '80s!

Plus, all the ingredients are there. If you throw the REM/U2 feud into the mix the similarities are all three cases, the feuding bands were playing the same type of music, but with significant stylistic differences, so there was already some tension about the direction the genre should take. Also, in each case they were pretty much going after the same people for their fan base - respectively, first and second generation metalheads, '80s kids that were fed up with glam but weren't into grunge yet since following independent music took a ton of effort back then, and Europhile hipsters who are basically the kind of people Say Anthing was making fun of in "Admit It!" Plus, all six of those bands both have sizable, dedicated fan bases that will defend them, and large numbers of people who think they're drastically overrated. All we need is for something to happen between the members of Muse and Radiohead, or their fans, to make them personally dislike each other...this could happen.