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Muse routinely fills arenas with their exhilarating brand of alternative-rock. Over the years, their sound has evolved from aggressive alternative to intricate synth-laden space-rock. They spare no one with their blasts of stylistically inclined energy, led by Matthew Bellamy’s empowering vocals that ride on his trademark falsetto and use of vibrato. Muse’s six full-lengths show a natural progression that is reflective of musical trends. Their first two albums, 1999's Showbiz and 2001's Origin of Symmetry, drew plenty of comparisons to Radiohead – which label Warner Bros. certainly liked to ride on for publicity purposes. Critics argued, and still do, that the album was too derivative of Radiohead, while fans perceived the label as the deepest of complements. Over the years, the band has brought forth an array of influences to the table, likely in an attempt to diversify their audio soundscapes and avoid such criticism. These range everywhere from Johann-Sebastian Bach and David Bowie to Skrillex, who Bellamy claimed was the main inspiration for the final two tracks on Muse’s latest album The 2nd Law, which was released almost a year ago to the date.
The Radiohead comparisons, first and foremost, are difficult to argue. Bellamy, whose voice is perhaps more straining and piercing than Thom Yorke’s, maintains a similarly airy and emotive quality. Each man's quivering range never overpowers the stirring arrangements, even when pushed to the front-and-center. Yet rather than emulating Yorke, it is likelier that Bellamy and Yorke drew on a similar inspiration: Jeff Buckley. "There are elements where we've been influenced by a lot of the same things, but not influenced by them [Radiohead]," Bellamy told Kerrang! in 1999. Showbiz, producer John Leckie, who also worked on Radiohead's The Bends, informed Bellamy that Yorke listened to a significant amount of Buckley. In many respects, echoes of Buckley’s work are heard throughout Muse’s songwriting. The comparable guitar progressions on Muse's “Falling Down” and Buckley's “Satisfied Mind” are one example. The band never considered Radiohead as a premiere influence; they were just a stepping point. In fact, when asked to name his five favorite bands, Bellamy didn’t even mention Radiohead. He brought up Buckley, Nirvana, Primus, Deftones, and Rage Against The Machine in their absence. It should be noted that drummer Dominic Howard had no trouble dropping the Radiohead in his answer. "When we were 16, Radiohead was one of our major influences," he told Rock Sound Magazine in 2006.
Since the members of Muse were barely past their teens when Showbiz was released, it’s not surprising to hear that the Radiohead comparisons have tapered off as Muse’s discography continues to expand. The band has grown tired of the comparison as well, continuously brushing off the question in later interviews. In their opinion, they don’t sound any more like Radiohead than to Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, or other ‘90s alt-rock heroes. Origin of Symmetry saw many of the same influences as the debut, though with a fuller and more refined sound that resulted in more adventurous prog-rock advancements. Although plenty more distorted than playful, Queen is a nice basis of comparison on several tracks, like the operatic vocal performance of “Micro Cuts”. The sultry dark rock of “Dark Shines” also reminds of Placebo, who already had three well-received albums out by the time Origin of Symmetry was released in 2001. It can certainly be argued that their dark vein of Brit-rock had an effect on the anthemic trio.
Muse’s next release came in 2003, with Absolution. As one of their most distortion-friendly efforts, the usual comparisons (Radiohead’s alt-rock and Queen’s theatrical pop) were still abundant, but Muse were more willing to stretch into even older modes of rock, like hair-metal. It wasn't unusual to see references to Black Sabbath and Deep Purple after the album’s release, as the guitars on Absolution were more thunderous than ever for Muse, who unleashed a ceaselessly furious attack of guitars and walls of distortion. Critics found it a tad too furious, without a ballad or subdued slow-down in sight. But it is still a nice representation of their stylistic mid-point. Absolution was where aforementioned Bellamy influences like Primus and Deftones were starting to be heard more prominently, even if those were discarded slightly for 2006's Black Holes and Revelations, which marked the beginning of Muse’s most idiosyncratic phase – where other influences, like those of classical music and electronica, began to emerge more prominently.
Their fifth album, The Resistance, showcased more classical music elements - specifically on the epic "Exogenesis". It wasn't the first time Muse had shown appreciation for classical music, though. It is another unavoidable influence in Muse’s music, specifically the works of Johann-Sebastian Bach. The melody of “Micro Cuts” is alleged to have been inspired by Johann-Sebastian Bach's “Prelude N°3 in D minor”, while the riff for "In Your World" was based off his “Toccata and Fugue in D minor”. As if the variety of stylistic journeys couldn’t get even more dizzying, forays into dubstep and dance are present on last year’s The 2nd Law, proving that no influence is too far out of reach or hastily discarded by Muse. Even as critics seemed intent on derailing Muse’s ascent through an onslaught of Radiohead comparisons, the band’s stylistic adventures throughout the years make such early comparisons seemingly irrelevant now. Muse have always had a plethora of influences, but their brightest successes have never hinged entirely on them.
Mike Mineo writes for ConcertTour.org. Concert Tour features the latest concert touring news, reviews and music commentary. Keep up with the latest Muse concert news at ConcertTour.org.