I came late to the punchy album that started Muse's career, after falling in love with the gloriously rich "Absolution". Expecting something naive and derivative, I was soon reassured as the youthful energy of this almost uniformly-good set of songs grew on me.
Of course, Radiohead and especially "The Bends" were a millstone around its neck - which I admit to perpetuating in this review. They may share a producer, John Leckie, and the chiming piano that begins "Sunburn" does have that familiar Street Spirit sound. And it was released during the post-OK Computer era, when, in the long absence of a follow-up to that masterpiece, everyone who played guitars was compared to Radiohead. But I take back anything I may have said about vocalist Matt Bellamy trying to sound like Thom Yorke. Bellamy's huge range and intensely-focused tone shine through any surface similarities to Yorke's more even croon.
It might fall within a genre, but there's room in any genre for well-written tunes played with vigour and brilliance. For an example of its emotional range, take "Falling Down". Starting out like a traditional white blues in the manner of Led Zeppelin, it's whipped up to a frenzy with Bellamy's Robert Plant-like virtuoso vocal swoops and cries. "Unintended" is a more lyrical variation on this theme, a sincere ballad that skirts around the acoustic territory of early bluesy Pink Floyd stuff (e.g. "Fat Old Sun"). The slightly grunge-influenced contrast between bare, brooding verses and big exploding choruses reaches its peak on "Sunburn". The techno-riffing rock on "Cave" and the throbbing rock-tango of "Uno" paved the way for their more individual later work.
Despite Bellamy's presence, Muse are by no means a one man band. Chris Wolstenholme's unrelenting basslines and drummer Dominic Howard's ever-varied rhythms always drive the sound forward. The few drawbacks include one or two lackluster songs near the end of the record, as well as its dodgy cover like an Athena poster. But on the whole, debuts as absorbing as this don't come along often, and in retrospect, the spark they showed here was ample evidence that they would get even better.
December 30, 2004