As a biographer, regular reviewer and virtually constant online opinion-spouter on the subject of the celebrated rock band Muse, I'm only too aware of how devoted, obsessive, argumentative and often really quite lovely their fanbase can be. And how much they REALLY like 'Origin Of Symmetry'. So it is with the consternation of a Dark Ages atheist that I approach my own personal ranking of their studio albums, well aware that I may be about to be excommunicated, decried as a false Muser and cast out into the wilderness with only a skipping MP3 of 'Sing For Absolution' for solace and the scorn of Musewiki upon my head. But I can only offer up my most honest appraisal and then throw myself upon the mercy of the Great Devouring Pyramid, may it have me for brunch if I'm wrong…
Obviously this is all relative – an average Muse album is still miles better than anything by, say, Mumford & Sons – but 'The Resistance' is the only real disappointment in Muse's canon. It opened with the deadly one-two of 'Uprising' and 'Resistance', then slumped into Queen pastiche and (relative) forgettability. It had its moments – 'Guiding Light' is brilliantly rousing and 'United States Of Eurasia' almost revisits the melodic grandeur of 'Butterflies And Hurricanes' – but it's essentially the rounding up/dumbing down of Muse's Big Rock formula for mass consumption/ease of comprehension and the closing orchestral 'Exogenesis' suite is indulgent to the extreme. But, like I say, still better than 'Babel'.
It's amazing how muted Muse's debut sounds today, since on its initial release it sounded like the ultimate in deranged musical madness. Now it's the sound of Muse's raw material grasping for some sort of solidity – where the singles 'Sunburn', 'Muscle Museum', Uno', 'Cave' and 'Unintended' squirm with a suppressed majesty and a continental vision that incorporated Balkan village dancing, Egyptian snake-charming and sadistic flamenco. Much of the rest felt thrown together though, and too much filler bunged on the end made for a limp to the finish.
CONTROVERSIAL! Yes it flirts so hard with theatrical bombast that it's pregnant with a litter of Brian Blesseds by track three. Yes the glossy 80s sheen is off-putting. And yes the theme of encroaching global catastrophe is beginning to sound a little well-worn in Muse's lexicon, a bit like Tim Burton making a film called Weird Cartoony Guy Played By Johnny Depp In A Shit Wig. But 'The 2nd Law' stands up for its sense of exploration and experimentation – where 'The Resistance' sounded like Muse indulging all their previous ideas in one huge, untempered splurge, 'The 2nd Law' delves into new territory, be it INXS pop-rock ('Panic Station'), dubstep ('The 2nd Law' end section) or letting Chris sing his way through his twelfth step on 'Liquid State' and 'Save Me'. And how could an album that urges bankers to "kill yourself, do us all a favour" not be touched with a certain genius?
Muse's most solid and focused pop collection, clocking in at 45 minutes including the gargantuan gallop into radiant ridiculousness that is 'Knights Of Cydonia'. With 'Supermassive Black Hole' and 'Starlight' as its chart-bothering calling cards, 'Black Holes…' tackled energy depletion, political misdirection, war and, um, jousting Martians with a rigorous rock attack and one eye on the dancefloor. Plus, if 'Invincible' had been the UK's Olympic song, we'd have won every gold going.
The dedicated Muse fan's favourite album, 'Origin Of Symmetry' sounded monumental when laid to rest at Reading 2011 and has a peerless first half that takes in Muse's best singles in the shape of 'New Born', 'Bliss' and their masterpiece 'Plug In Baby'. Initially I found it a little too sprawling and disjointed, perhaps as a result of visiting the band in the studio during the recording and finding them full of stories of making the record while whacked off their gourds on magic mushrooms. But these days I can find more coherence in the daring and adventurous triptych of 'Micro Cuts', 'Screenager' and 'Darkshines' and recognize 'Citizen Erased' as one of Muse's greatest achievements, the centerpiece of a grand ambitious album that they probably would've insisted reviewers previewed while skydiving out of space, if they'd thought of it first.
As the bloke who turned up on Take Me Out dressed as Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show preparing to conduct the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra found to his cost, first impressions count, and my first impression of 'Absolution' was unbeatable. At a preview listening at the Planetarium, its space rock wonders roared by accompanied by a dazzling tour of the Milky Way beamed onto the dome screen, the perfect audio-visual combination akin to listening to Slipknot's 'Iowa' in an actual abattoir. At the time 'Absolution' sounded immaculate, filler-free, the best rock album of the decade, and my opinion of it hasn't changed since.
'Apocalypse Please' remains the most artful and successful of Muse's big album-opening stomparamas, 'Butterflies And Hurricanes' is still their best operatic epic and the initial rush of 'Time Is Running Out', 'Sing For Absolution' and 'Stockholm Syndrome' never gives way to a late-album lull, the quality never wavers right up to the magnificent 'Ruled By Secrecy'. Recorded as Bush and Blair (illegally) invaded Iraq, it was also the beginning of Matt Bellamy's political awakening, his vague theories on life, the universe and Everything They're Not Telling You finding focus amid a flurry of metaphors about kidnap, female orgasms, secret organizations controlling the Earth and fleeing the planet before an inevitable – indeed, welcome and long overdue - Armageddon. A terrifying classic.