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.