I Just Don't Get... Muse

They do a mean line in space-rock theatrics and endless falsettos, but it doesn't chime with me. Here's why the boys from Teignmouth leave me cold...
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They do a mean line in space-rock theatrics and endless falsettos, but it doesn't chime with me. Here's why the boys from Teignmouth leave me cold...
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Having read John Clarke's elegantly-written, though fundamentally blasphemous, tirade against my beloved Smiths, I thought that as soon as calmed myself down a bit, I would indulge in some scathing iconoclasm of my own. Because there is one band that I have consistently disliked since the first time their fingernail-sounds scratched down the tonally-sensitive blackboard of my ear drums. And what makes it worse is that everyone seems to bloody adore them... Ladies and Gentleman, I just don't get Muse.

“Uh, Hello!, they're like the most incredible collective of musicians in music today!”

“Matt Bellamy's voice is classically trained.”

What a shit-munching philistine you are, Dan... how dare you criticise Muse?!”

“We are no longer friends.”

Just a selection of the responses I've had from friends/former friends of mine after having the temerity to suggest that maybe Muse are utter fucking garbage. Not in a Jonas Brothers/Paramore/Coldplay sort of way. I appreciate that Muse are at least trying to make decent music; in the same way that Derek Acorah is at least trying to communicate with “the spirit world." But trying isn't enough; what I'm looking for - is nature as opposed to nurture.

You only have to watch one of Muse's live performances on the telly – if you've got a spare year, that is – to know that these guys are seriously good on their instruments. Matt Bellamy's dazzling dexterity covers the length and breadth of that guitar with the same level of skill as some of the world's top shredders; he'll then jump behind the ivory keys and hypnotises us with his multi-trade wizardry, all the while his voice is exercising its way up and down the stave like the love-child of Thom Yorke and Maria Callas. All very impressive. But how does it sound? In a word: shit.

I appreciate that Muse are at least trying to make decent music; in the same way that Derek Acorah is at least trying to communicate with “the spirit world."

Music is art. Art cannot be taught. I know your art teacher at school said it can, and he's brilliant at painting horses – all in proportion and everything. But who apart from his good self comes over all peculiar when they see one of his horses – bored, in a field, looking like a photo, in a frame – and thinks “I must have it!” No one; they think: “wow, that's a really good painting of a horse – all in proportion and everything.” And that's the problem I have with Muse. It's obvious where they're taking their ideas from; what their inspiration is; who their, ahem, Muse is. They ham-fistedely amalgamate their influences and wear them very loudly on their sleeves. Technically accomplished; artistically barren.

The most obvious comparison made is with Radiohead. That was clearly true in the early days of Muse, and heck, who the fuck wouldn't want to sound like Radiohead? There is a problem, of course... Muse cannot touch them. The dynamics; the odd time signatures; the terrifying guitar solos; the socio-political commentary; the I've-never-heard-anything-like-this-before-and-probably-never-will-again sense of astonishment that Radiohead gave us all those years ago, and  which perpetuates to this very day, has not been captured, or even slightly graced by Muse. The dynamics just aren't there; the guitar solos are stock; UFOs, reptilian-humanoids and 9/11 'truth' tales rule the narrative; and the I've-heard-this-before-somewhere-yep-this-definitely-isn't-anything-new sense of disappointment is palpable to all who will embrace it honestly.

What Muse are, effectively, is a cross between Queen and Emerson, Lake and Palmer (I'm going to completely disregard their latest kinship with Skrillex and his dubstep peers, because it's frankly ridiculous). Two bands I despise. Muse's larger than life sounds and electrifying stage-shows tick every box – and more – when it comes to recreating the big sound and spectacle of Queen. Bellamy's authority over his audience will obviously never hit Freddie Mercury-levels of messianic worship and adulation, but he's not a million miles away. And ELP's incredible instrumental-athleticism was really something to behold. I'm confident in saying that each member of Muse is, I'm sure, as technically sound on their respective instruments as ELP were - and just as contemptuous of their listener.

But all of those qualities I have just mentioned have absolutely no place being on my iPod, in my car stereo or swimming in my subconscious. I don't care if you're a great showman: I'm sat at home on a Friday night, after a shit week at work, in desperate need of artistic nourishment, with a bottle of red and my iTunes library: I need profound lyricism; innovative chord-progressions; raw, passionate, unaffected emotion. And, I'm sorry, but I just don't feel that Muse are reaching any of those ideals. So who does?

What Muse are, effectively, is a cross between Queen and Emerson, Lake and Palmer

If you consider the type of pundits who sing the praises of Muse, they tend to be people like Zane Lowe: a man who – if the money's right – will unflinchingly declare any band/album to be the greatest of that year, and to buy it now, etc. Or readers of the NME, who voted Muse “the most exciting live act of ALL TIME”. I don't ever remember hearing John Peel enthusing about Muse.

But then again, who am I to say what's good and what's not? No one. I'm not self-assured enough to believe that Muse are in fact the greatest con-trick in music today and that in five years time everyone will realise and this and think themselves very bloody silly for having bought all their records, etc. That's how it does feel to me, though.

So this article is not just the savage polemical attack might be construed as; but more of an open letter to all the readers of Sabotage Times who are Muse fans - and I fear there are many, possibly screaming what a c*nt I am; just what the bloody hell am I missing? What drugs should I be taking? Am I just a victim of the subjectivity of music? Answers in the comment box below, please...

Follow Dan on Twitter- @danalland

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