New Thom Yorke, New Muse.


Muse and Radiohead have been two of the biggest bands of my adolescent years. As I hurtle helplessly towards the big two-zero, my feelings towards these both bands could not be any different and it’s quite aptly summed up in these two new songs from Muse and the main creative force behind Radiohead.

Muse’s new effort is about as bombastic, overblown and dumb as you would expect a song called United States of Eurasia to be. The band have always been firmly wedged between a slick, stadium-filling rock sound and a symphonic, classically inspired one that comes from Bellamy stealing piano licks from Chopin and Rachmaninoff and pilfering guitar riffs from May and Morello.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being overblown, bombastic, slick or stadium-filling. The first two are charges you could easy level at Radiohead, but here, it’s just wrong. Muse don’t do overarching themes well, they don’t do cross-genre appropriating well, they don’t really do lyrics well. They’re a band that are at their best when they surrender such pretensions and just give in to their two strongest assets: The ability of Bellamy as a hard-rock riff writer to rival Jimmy Page and the band’s tightness (and loudness) live. I’ve never had time for balladry when it comes to Muse. Give me Stockholm Syndrome, Citizen Erased or Plug in Baby, big, dumb songs with no pretensions beyond the band’s abilities.

Eurasia is an awkward halfway home. The guitar riff is tame, the lyrics weak – and are unwelcome continuation of the band’s dabbling in tepid, idealistic, vaguely political ranting – and, worse of all, the song has no real hook.

And yes, as you’ve heard, it sounds an awful lot like Queen. The guitar licks, the guitar tone and the harmonised vocals, pure Queen. They don’t even really try to hide it. Similarly, the piano outro sounds just like a Beethoven sonata.

Yorke’s song, on the other hand, is wonderful. Subtle, nuanced, but sweeping and epic at the same time. It picks off very much where The Eraser left off, skittering, pulse-like programmed beats, dreamy electronic keys and Thom’s otherworldly croon swirling around this solid base. The song sparks to life with the brief introduction of ‘live’ instruments as a syncopated drum-beat comes in shortly after the cue of a crashing, distorted guitar riff before dissapearing and eventually rejoining the composition for its climax. Wonderful, haunting, intelligent. The kind of thing that you come to exect from Thom and Radiohead as an extension. It manages the grandiose, but through a careful and considered mix of tools, rather than with mere brute force.

Sure, it’s not his own song, but it’s a fairly comprehensive re-working – arguably less of a cover than Muse’s Queen imitation is.

I’m sure Muse will be the first of many bands that I’ll fall out of love with as I get older, but it’s remarkable how into them I was a a couple of years ago. Their new track just reminds me that now, to me, they seem a very teenage, a very adolescent band – a trait that seems to lead to obsessive fans that do pseudo-sexual shit like this, this and buying ridiculously expensive Manson guitars to be Matt Bellamy which is really only a small step up from the kind of slack-jawed dedication you see with Jonas Brothers’ fans.

A lot of similar flak gets thrown towards Radiohead and Thom Yorke, their fanbase has similar obsessive elements and, of course, I could end up feeling the same towards them in a few years time, but for now, they’re still fresh and essential as ever.

MP3: Thom Yorke – All For The Best
MP3: Muse – United States of Eurasia

14 responses to “New Thom Yorke, New Muse.

  1. Couldn’t agree more. Muse have some great songs, and when they just rock out they’re almost perfect. But they haven’t quite the depth to pull off anything more interesting.

    Mind you, Radiohead didn’t have much going for them over their first two albums except for two or three very good songs. Maybe Muse will mature like Radiohead have.

  2. Muse over reacts. They don’t make good lyrics either and their problem is that they don’t have a Thom Yorke. Muse is on it’s fifth album, Radiohead, well, they had already a masterpiece in their SECOND album, The Bends. From that one, it was masterpiece after masterpiece, being their seventh, In Rainbows, magnificent.

  3. This is a fair and leveled criticism of the first two of Muse’s offerings (great twitter post too). One thing I will always say about them is that up until the present day, they have left me asking myself after each album ‘where do they go from here?’. While I was at ease with USoE not being on the album, uprising’s presence has not caused as much alarm as when I heard Supermassive, which in fairness I grew to like. I don’t think the same can be said with uprising even on a first listen. That said, I suggest a wait until the song is at least heard in context. Muse, at the very least, have been consistent in all their albums, in thier weaker offerings or in their outright stadium rockers. Lyrics have never been their thing, and the pseudo-political/conspiracy angle is wearing a bit thin, though I have faith that there will be a handful of songs still to nestle amongst the growing parthenon of classics that we’ve come to expect.

    On a side note-and this is not a charge leveled particularly on this blog- I find the Radiohead comparisons still to be confounding. Both artists have moved far away from whatever point they we deemed to have crossed at (John Leckie’s Bends and Showbiz), so both bands deserve the respect to continue to do so independently of each other.

  4. I think on the whole the main thing Muse have always lacked is the memorable, sing-a-long choruses that a stadium rock band should have. I’ve always found Muse quite frustrating, because in terms of their vocal parts they just never get to hook!

    I don’t think the Radiohead comparisons are too far fetched. The vocal styles aren’t a million miles apart and there are similarities in some of their softer moments and chord choices. The only difference is that Radiohead never really worked very well as a load, in yer face guitar band.

  5. Well made and valid points, everyone!

    Michael, I was only compared the two in the sense that they’ve both been big bands in my adolescence. I’ve been scolded in the past for compared them and I do know how silly it is to do so, as Tom points out, the only real similarity is a brief period in the 90s where they both favourite an all out guitar set-up, and Thom and Matt’s penchant for falsetto – though even that has significant differences between the two.

    It’s not impossible that Muse might one day mature, but they have been around for five albums now and, if anything, there’s only been a dumbing down in their music, I can’t see them pulling a Kid A or maturing in any sense. Not that that’s a necessarily bad thing, of course, as I said in the post, I love Muse when they do big and dumb well, this just isn’t it.

  6. I do not agree much with either the posts above, apart from the opinion that muse does not have the strongest lyrics . Musically wise, muse has always offered much longer and less repetative chord progressions than radiohead. I always loved this about muse, because their music is not as ‘predictable’ as most rock music. Their tunes are indeed not ‘catchy’ and they do not have ‘simple hooks’. But this is exactly what I what it interesting to listen to. (at least, if you like to be surprised like me)

    I can’t sing along songs the first time i hear them. With radiohead on the other hand, I do think their choices of chords are interesting (at least not too much powerchords), but they get repeated the whole song, over and over again. The only thing that changes a little, is the melody.

    Also, Muse hardly ever misses a note live, while Radiohead seems to be off pitch alot of the time while playing live.

  7. Nero, you make some good points.

    Radiohead’s songwriting is often based around looping chord progressions which then gather layers. You’re right, sometimes the chords don’t change, but then that’s not the idea. And to say that only the melody changes misses a hell of a lot in terms of layering and arrangement.

    Muse have had some interesting chord progressions, but their harmonic language has stayed the same for their entire career. Once I’d heard two songs, I’ve never heard a Muse song that suprised me.

  8. Your a complete dick and a moron. Muse are the greatest band of our time and you should appreciate their music instead of being jealous and writing articles to make yourself feel better. Grow a pair

  9. What a load of shite. Both these bands have legendary front men, great lyrics, great live sets and both def have amazing albums.
    Sounds like a load of Radiohead fans having a go at Muse to me why?????????????? SAD

  10. Radiohead will never pull out crap like Guiding Light or dare to record a pile of shit like Undisclosed Desires. Even though I thought Knights of Cydonia was a cringe parody, USoE and their last piece of scum have overtopped that level of cheesyness. Wow Muse is definetly DEAD. Long Live Radiohead!!!

  11. About the shit songs like ‘Guiding light” I have to agree that I do not understand that a band like Muse, who Can produce more interesting and complex music, and is actually appreciated for it, comes up with simple, corny songs like that. I really can not stand half of the songs on their newest album (the resistance), but I have to say that I love the “symphony” on it. I love how muse uses (one could say rip or be inspired – opinions vary) classical music.
    I really miss this part in Radiohead. it is more experimental, which is good…but the songs are just tooo repetative simple patterns for my brains to feel stimultated. If a pattern in total costs 5 seconds, and it is prettty miuch repeated 36 times to fill 3 minutes of music, I feel musically /mentally bored by it already at 30 seconds. Then I crave some progression in the music. Just adding an instrument is not really changing too much. It’s like taking the same car the whole time and just painting the color of the car differently. It will and always be the same car car..and looking at the same car over and oer again will get boring at one point.

  12. Tristian Handshandy

    So USoE sounds a bit like Queen. Whoopy do, yes Muse are bombastic, overblown and lack a certain self awareness, but its that a bad thing?> I’d rather have Bellamy’s geo-politique, conspiracy theories, bonkers space rock from Devon than Thom Yorkes mopey naval gazing, but there’s room for both.

  13. How can you deny the brilliance of songs such as citizen erazed and stockholm syndrom, time is running out, hysteria, plug in baby, map of theproblematique etc. i could go on there for ages, this link mainly consists of radiohead fans who can not face that at this moment in time muse are bigger because radiohead have passed their best in OK computer and Kid A, you, i will admit radiohead on pure musical genius can better muse, even though im not a fan myself but to deny matt bellamy’s lyrics and say there weak is poor judgement, also radiohead will never have a matt bellamy, somebody who can pick up a guita and tottally change the atmosphere in a gig, muse will always best radohead in my opinion just for the ability to improve on differant genre’s all the time.

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