These days, it might not be the coolest thing to admit you’re a Muse fan
The band – who recently headlined the opening night of this year’s Glastonbury festival – are more likely to be seen penning Olympic anthems with hilariously bad lyrics, or crafting stage shows so elaborate the actual quality of the music gets left behind.
I remember the first time I ever caught a glimpse of Muse; on an episode of Top of the Pops as a neon-haired Bellamy wailed ‘Feeling Good’ through a megaphone. I was 11 years old.
The excitement was palpable, and the next day at school everyone was talking about their new favourite band: ‘Moose’ (as we initially thought it was pronounced).
Starting with humble beginnings in their native Devon, Muse’s first album – 1999’s Showbiz – didn’t really ruffle too many feathers; many saw it as being too obviously influenced by Radiohead.
But with their second, Origin of Symmetry, the mood started to shift, and an expressive, challenging rock album began the band’s steady rise.
Like any good rock album should, Muse’s Origin of Symmetry introduced its listeners to a plethora of different instrumentation, not just the same, tired old guitar, bass and drums set up.
Highlights include the opening keys of ‘New Born‘, a warm embrace that reflects the womb-like imagery of the lyrics before the song lurches into that buzzsaw riff; and ‘Feeling Good’, a rare occasion in which a bonafide rock band dared to release a single driven almost entirely by bluesy piano.
It meant that the diverse range of sounds on the album kept each song sounding fresh and different from what had come before.
But even when they were using traditional rock instruments, they were doing so in astounding new ways…
Kaoss reigns supreme
Matt Bellamy’s exclusive use of Manson guitars (the shiny, oddly shaped ones he’s never seen onstage without), adorned with all sorts of knobs and switches a young guitar player could only dream about, was enough to get the geek in you very excited indeed.
It was the way he was strangling all sorts of strange noises from his axe that you had no way of comprehending, and Muse’s aesthetic has always been full of otherworldly sounds, lost on the ears of many who would probably assume it was “some studio trickery or something”.
It was around the time of Origin of Symmetry when Bellamy really started experimenting with the limitations of his musical instruments, strapping Kaoss Pads to the body of his guitar (I assume that’s one on the wonky intro to ‘Plug In Baby’) and pushing things to new limits.
He still does this today. I’s just a shame that it’s all hidden under overblown songs about conspiracy theories.
Night and day
Perhaps no Muse album demonstrates the band’s abilitiy to tread two very different paths more than Origin of Symmetry.
On the one hand, you have the all out raging of ‘New Born’ (there’s no denying that riff rocks hard) and ‘Plug In Baby’, and on the other, the infinitely more delicate ‘Screenager‘, which wobbles like a shonky fairground trapped in an elipitcal orbit.
They’ve approached other albums in similar ways since, but Origin of Symmetry showcases this night and day attitude to songwriting better than any.
The genesis of ‘Space rock’
Of course, the term ‘Space rock’ had been around long before Muse ever decided to point their guitars to the stars; Bowie, Spacemen 3, Pink Floyd, Hum, Hawkwind etc.
But Origin of Symmetry seemed to be the moment where Muse took their Radiohead inspired sounds and gave the whole thing a sci-fi twist.
Chris Wolstenholme’s arpeggiated bass lines seemed to be a major ingredient in communicating that out-of-this-world sound, and tracks like ‘Space Dementia‘ obviously have links to the extra-terrestrial.
Take a listen to ‘Micro Cuts‘, and tell me it doesn’t feel like you are lifting off into space itself.
The space rock tag was one the band would begin to take a little too literally on 2006’s Black Holes and Revelations – and the whole thing seems like self-parody today.
But with Origin of Symmetry, they nailed it.
A rock album that rocks
At the end of the day, Origin of Symmetry, like any good rock album should, straight up rocks.
Origin of Symmetry seems to contain a power in its harder moments that they’ve struggle to replicate since.
Take the opening riff to ‘Citizen Erased‘ for instance. Not only is it a great rock riff, it’s also built upon harmonics and feedback, and precedes a seven-minute track that dips and dives through song dynamics for a truly engaging listen.
Origin of Symmetry is as equally challenging as it is listenable. Not many bands could craft experimentalism into such iconic rock songs, and Muse’s obvious desire to push themselves was deservedly recognised with worldwide acclaim.
If you’ve yet to check out their 2001 opus, I highly recommend you do so.
Listen to Origin of Symmetry in full below: