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!"
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.