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Muse - Showbiz CD (album) cover




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3.13 | 257 ratings

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4 stars Showbiz is a strong debut from a band that have gone on to bigger things, and brought the word "bombastic" back into common use. It showcases a band that are bursting with creative ideas and a vision of a sound that is both hypnotic and bone- crushingly heavy, yet balanced with lights and shades.

This album wouldn't be out of place in any collection of Progressive rock - although it would never be considered pure prog. It's not about what Muse do, it's about how they do it.

A piano ostinato kicks off "Sunburn", a piece that might sound like Radiohead if it wasn't for the crunching guitars and crashing drums that are Muse's bombastic trademarks. "Sunburn" drifts between ambience and slabs of power chords in an effortless and seamless manner, until we hit the bridge, where Bellamy tortures the guitar within an inch of it's life. A new piano ostinato coda brings the piece to a close nicely.

Muscle Museum shows Muse's classical pretensions coming forward; clean-cut lines and a real sense of space make for another rock song with a difference - but it's when those power chords cut through, then die back to allow a build-up to another huge chorus that we really know that Muse have already acquired a mature and unique style on this, their debut album. The bridge again demonstrates the powers of Matt Bellamy's invention, with wonderful developing, yet ultimately simple chord sequences.

Fillip is most interesting around the bridge, where Bellamy again drives forward with the piano into an impressive accellerando, but the song itself seems to contain harmonic issues - most of the chord sequence is inventive and contains wonderful momentum, but one or two chords stand out as being "wrong". This is a fault they share with ELP, so they can be forgiven that!

"Falling Down" begins with a kind of blues, deeply reminiscent of Radiohead, but Muse are very keen on angular chord changes that provide a nice identifying stamp. The song progresses with gospel-style piano chord sequences into a passionate rock ballad sung with soul, man. There's nothing partiularly progressive about this song, but boy, is it beautiful!

"Cave" provides the contrast we might expect, an exloding rocker with angular chords and driving bass, seguing into piano-driven sections and those huge power chordal choruses. The second verse, though, feels a little bit of a slog, from a progressive point of view, as the formula is becoming apparent, and we await the bridge. Bellamy takes to the keyboard and the band meander through a slightly directionless ambient section to a great minute or so of prog that makes up the coda.

The title track puts us more firmly into prog territory. Bellamy pulls out all the stops in the passion department for a spine-tinglingly emotional delivery, as the band grow a hypnotic ambience into ever darker and more threatening chunks of rock on an unfolding journey towards more guitar torturing and impossible falsettos that put Justin Hawkins entirely to shame.

"Unintended" begins with more homage to the roots of rock music - the Blues. This develops quickly into a ballad in which Bellamy shows many angles to his voice - some of the falsetto is so pure, you'd swear it was a female vocalist. On the whole, though, I end up wishing Matt would just sing like himself instead of constantly dropping into a Yorke soundalike. That niggle aside, this is another beautiful, almost perfect ballad, with some nice production effects.

"Uno" has Dominic Howard proving that there's life in 4/4 yet, and is probably the first heavy Tango I've ever heard. With flavours of Hank Marvin creeping in, and superb lights and shades, this is a really progressive approach to the old rock song format. My only niggle with this track is Bellamy's inability to produce a decent guitar solo.

"Sober" is a mid-tempo grunge style track with Bellamy once again demonstrating that as a lead guitarist, he's a fabulous rhythm guitarist. The twists and turns to this song are not unexpected by now, and it stands out as being only average, despite the elaborate decorations in the production. Kinda reminds me of something from "The Bends".... until the nice breakdown around 2:30, which sadly doesn't really go anywhere.

The intro to "Escape" also has an atmosphere that is reminiscent of "The Bends", and the overall style of the song is inescapably Radiohead, but there is an odd flow that goes above and beyond the simplicity of the chord progressions and breakdowns. Nothing remarkably proggy about this song, which again lacks the power and direction of the earlier songs on the album.

"Overdue" falls into much the same traps, yet is more inventive than the previous two songs. It'll probably get labelled as "Brit-Pop" by many, but it's very, very different to the bland simple constructions of that genre if you listen with only half an ear. I would say this is progressive even if not overtly so, and despite the short lenght.

Finally "Hate This and I'll Love You". Hark! Are those the crickets from "Club Tropicana" I hear? Actually, I'm fairly sure they're different, moodier crickets. There's nothing much to hate about the song, but Muse go for it with all guns blazing to establish their sound once and for all... a fairly pointless and fruitless excercise, as the first 3 quarters of this album do that very nicely. What I mean is, they put in too much effort - they're trying too hard with the finale, and who could blame them?

Well, me, for one. I think that "Cave" would have rounded the album off better - but that said, on the whole, this is a superb debut, and one that any progger would enjoy as a rockout every now and again - but not an album that would regularly grace the CD (or record) player of the connoisseur.

3.5 stars - A good album that would be a good addition to any prog music collection - not really in the essential camp, but you really should hear it end-to-end a few times (it doesn't impress on the first couple of hearings).

Certif1ed | 4/5 |


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