These days, the Internet has increased how difficult it is to stay relevant and shortened the lifespan of bands and artists unwilling to put in the necessary work; constantly delivering content that pleases fans and sells out venues year after year proves to be a progressively difficult task. However, Muse, an English trio from Teignmouth, England, seems to have found a way to do it 20 years after releasing their first album in 1999.
When I went to their concert at Capital One Arena last April, Muse’s impeccable instrumental work and fabulous set production drew in a full stadium of people whose ages seemed to span many decades and generations. Despite a discography that began before the turn of the century, Muse has managed to progress sonically and keep their audiences listening with each consecutive release.
By comparing their first album, “Showbiz,” with their latest release from last year, “Simulation Theory,” the reasons for their longevity and sustained relevance become clear to me: their ever-evolving sound and their openness to emotional development.
Released in September 1999, “Showbiz” comes off as surprisingly mature work for a nascent band. One sign of their maturity can be seen in the similarity between their music and that of another English rock band, Radiohead, which had already released three albums at the time. Because of this similarity, record labels in the U.K. were initially hesitant to sign Muse, but an American label fortunately gave the band a chance to prove their worth.
“Showbiz” guarantees a rewarding listen, even today. On the album, Matt Bellamy demonstrates the astounding range that would eventually become emblematic of the band throughout their career. The band’s precise grip on rhythm, along with flourishing drum beats, guitar and bass all paved the way for Muse to turn their debut album into a decades-long career.
The band used their instrumental ability, however, to tell cynical and dark stories without much emotional resolution. Collectively, the lyrics peel open some of the band’s wounds to show the depths of the pain they experienced without offering a way to mend the deep cuts.
One of the last songs on the album, “Sober,” captures the band’s starting point. In it, Matt writes and sings about his love for various whiskeys: Royal Canadian, Wild Turkey, Aberlour and Jameson. The burning sensations of taking a swig of a drink are the only reason he could “remain unfrozen.” Muse, in their earliest stages, embraced their self-destructive tendencies, which built up their authenticity but put limits on their emotional maturity.
The overall mood of the album is quite somber and, frankly, almost hopeless. While the band found a home in the darkness, this only left room for its members to grow over the coming decades.
Fast forward 19 years to the November 2018 release of their latest album, “Simulation Theory,” and Muse can now tout themselves as a veteran band that has experimented with many stylistic variations.
From featuring more falsetto singing to embracing classical influences and playing church organs, the band toys with many of the various techniques they picked up over the years to finally suggest a resolution to the pain of the world.
The album has a neon-colored theme that draws upon the imagery of the 1980s, and its songs portray a bleak world that pushes people to the edges, cages them in despair and causes war.
Although these descriptions of a dark environment sound like more of the same from the angsty rock band, their lyrics pivot to shift the blame. If “Showbiz” implies that pains come from within an individual, “Simulation Theory” argues that the fault is not in ourselves, but in the world itself. What we can do, Muse posits, is move forward with love in our hearts.
The band’s newfound positivity does not so much mean that its members no longer experience hardship, but rather that they have grown out of their melancholic apathy toward trying to fix the difficulties they face. For instance, bassist Chris Wolstenholme went to rehab in 2009 for his alcoholism, and it was his bandmates who forced him to do it.
This work is a refreshing change that humanizes the band’s music. Taken with their discography as a whole, “Simulation Theory” reflects the ability of Muse to not only switch up their sound for new swaths of listeners, but also to grow emotionally alongside their long-term fans.
The band has come a long way over the past two decades, and I for one am excited to see how they continue to keep things fresh and genuine. Luckily for Muse, their changing sound and style have only pushed them forward and guaranteed their success with each passing year.
Ellie Yang is a junior in the College. Record Rewind appears in print and online every other Friday.