Sometimes, the generic version of something can be as good as its genuine counterpart. Other times you want the real thing. After listening to the tepid music of Muse on its debut album, Showbiz (Maverick), you’ll want the real thing.
Muse sounds as if it wants to be known as the best Radiohead cover band in the world. Singer Matthew Bellamy, with his high-pitched voice, sounds like a close copy of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. However, Bellamy’s vocals sound forced, as if he has inhaled helium. He lacks all the emotion and beauty of Yorke’s voice.
The band also tries to copy Radiohead’s sound by trying to make anthem rock songs and ballads. Again, the band pales in comparison. With rare exceptions, most of the songs on Showbiz just sound like bland alterna-pop. The opening song, “Sunburn,” starts out with an interesting rolling piano solo before becoming another mundane rock song pumped out by many other bands.
In other songs, such as “Uno” and “Sober,” power-chords meet pounding drums – another sound that is already in the music industry in abundance. The song “Fillip” has to be one of the worst songs ever produced. The song has a jerky start-stop sound, which is akin to nails being scratched slowly on a blackboard.
Muse continues the Radiohead obsession on the ballads that make up the other half of Showbiz. And just like on the rock songs, the ballads fall short of Radiohead’s. “Falling Down,” with its sparse acoustic guitar and Bellamy’s croon, borders on country. Other slower songs on the album just float in one ear and out the other.
Yet there are a few good songs on Showbiz. “Muscle Museum” is one of the more interesting songs to come out this year. It has a sinister, carnival-like sound that complements Bellamy’s voice before bursting into power chords for the chorus. It still sounds like Radiohead but is different enough to make you notice. The title track, “Showbiz,” has a pounding, subterranean feel to it that shows the band trying to break out of the Radiohead mold they made for themselves.
In the end, a couple of decent songs don’t justify buying a whole album. Until Muse decides to expand the quality sounds it offers on the few good songs, it always will be Radiohead’s double.
This article appeared in the October 4, 1999 issue of the Hatchet.