Welcome back to aMUSEings, where we take a closer look at each of Muse's nine albums. Coming off the commercial success of Showbiz with over 700,000 copies sold worldwide, Muse was making their way across Europe and North America on tour. While on this tour during the summer of 1999, Muse began writing what would become arguably their best album. With a title based on the 1994 book Hyperspace by Michio Kaku, it's Origin of Symmetry.
As mentioned before, Muse began working on Origin of Symmetry during their Showbiz tour. Working with David Bottrill, they were even able to record four of the tracks while simultaneously on tour. Once the tour for Showbiz wrapped in late 2000, Matt, Chris, and Dom were able to fully focus on the next album. The four previously recorded songs, New Born, Plug in Baby, Bliss, and Darkshines all had to be rerecorded due to the poor quality of the originals. The time spent was not in vain, as having four songs already recorded helped the band continue workshopping the album. Specifically, it set the tone for Origin of Symmetry. Origin has a much darker vibe and feel to it than Showbiz. This album is much grainier, effect-heavy, and more riff-based. Bellamy attributed the tone and themes from the album to the strained relationships that came from the Showbiz tour. After the July 17th, 2001 release, fans worldwide realized this album was something special. There really isn't a bad track on Origin of Symmetry. This album would be the first of three releases for Muse that were, in the opinion of many fans, perfect albums. Normally, you will see me cover the highlights from each album and briefly mention the other tracks. This album is one of three exceptions to that, as we will now take a look at the entirety of Origin of Symmetry.
New Born: One thing that needs to be addressed is Muse's ability to open an album. For every album they have released, the opening track has been phenomenal. New Born is no exception. The song begins with Matt flexing his piano skills with a full solo. The piano continues throughout the first verse as Bellamy sings, "Link it to the world, link it to yourself." This song is about discovering yourself after a rebirth of the soul. Bellamy's voice is softer here, but still full of power. Then the guitar comes in, and man it kicks some ass. It's distorted, heavy, and funky, and perfectly establishes the tone for the rest of the album. Once Dom begins drumming and Chris starts his beautiful bass work, the heavy section really comes together. After the first round of the chorus, Matt really lets loose on the guitar. The sound is hard to describe. Back-and-forth high notes quickly followed by lower vocals create a dark atmosphere that needs to be heard rather than described in words. The highlight of the song is in the riff. Something about the main guitar riff is just so epic to hear. A perfect introduction to a perfect album.
Bliss: One of the highlights of Origin of Symmetry is Wolstenholme's bass. It's full of energy, often being one of the loudest instruments in each track. The Bliss bass line is a great example. Matching the secondary guitar riff, Chris accentuates each phrase especially well. The main guitar riff for Bliss is also worth looking at. Looking at the tabs, the notes look like radio waves. Matt moves up and down the guitar neck with such ease, it's crazy how good his playing is so early into his career. The lyrics for Bliss are also fantastic. "Give me all the peace and joy in your mind, I want the peace and joy in your mind." Bellamy moves between regular signing and his falsetto quite often, specifically in the chorus of the song. His singing is simply not human at times, which we will see often throughout this album.
Space Dementia: This track also begins with a piano solo, but it's quite different from New Born's intro. Space Dementia's piano is, fittingly, more spaced apart. The tone is full of tension and a bit of anxiety. Once Matt really starts going crazy on his piano, it doesn't stop for almost the entire song. Space Dementia is an actual condition experienced by astronauts. The symptoms, insignificance, insecurity, mental instability, and irrational behavior, are translated into the messages of the song. While not featuring as much guitar or bass, the pain in Matt's vocals and the energy behind his piano playing make Space Dementia one of the more unique tracks in their discography. This is one of the first songs that makes use of different vocal effects. Whether it's the higher-pitched effect from the intro and verses to the grainy and static-filled outro, Matt's vocals are really on display here.
Hyper Music: If the different vocal effects on Space Dementia weren't enough, Hyper Music now features the insane guitar effects that give Muse their signature sound. The song opens with what sounds like guitar strings being ripped apart combined with screaming high notes. And while the guitar riff is amazing, the highlight of Hyper Music is once again the bass. Throughout the first verse, you get a taste of how good the bass line in this song is. After the chorus, however, the bass gets its time to shine. The only other instruments are Matt's vocals and Dom's drums, leaving an almost isolated bass track. Another great thing about this track is Matt's vocals. With this song being about a breakup and the anger that follows, the lyrics have to be full of pain and emotion. Matt delivers. "Just to spit it in your face! I don't love you, I never did. I don't want you, I never will."
Plug in Baby: Plug in Baby is one of the greatest Muse tracks ever. Once again starting with screaming guitar playing, Bellamy then plays the main riff. Normally, I won't go into much detail about the specific music theory of the music, as I prefer to just talk about the music itself. That being said, the key of Plug in Baby is definitely worth mentioning. The song is written in B Minor, which means five out of seven notes are flat. The guitar riff simply goes up and down the B Minor harmonic scale, which adds a couple of sharps as well. The result is a beautifully weird riff that just works perfectly. Plug in Baby also features the use of Matt's falsetto during the outro. He screams so high yet so loud that it doesn't even sound real. There isn't much I can really say about this song, it's just that good. Surely Muse can't get much better than this, right?
Citizen Erased: Turns out, Muse can get better. Firstly, please go listen to Citizen Erased if you haven't already. If there is only one track that you listen to throughout this entire series, make it this one. This is arguably the greatest song Muse has ever released and should be up there along with Bohemian Rhapsody for an all-time greatest song. People might be turned away from this song due to its length, which is fair. Citizen Erased clocks in at 7 minutes and 22 seconds, but believe me when I say that every single second is earned. The song is never rushed, never drags or overstays its welcome. This song features four different sections, two being heavier and two being lighter. The beginning, and by extension the main guitar riff, is simply unbelievable. Matt switches his voice between both the deeper, more traditional male voice and his signature falsetto with very poignant lyrics. "And the truth's unwinding, scraping away at my mind, please stop asking me to describe. For one moment I wish you'd hold your stage, with no feelings at all. Open-minded, I'm sure I used to be, so free. After moving into the slower section, the song still retains all the energy of the opening, even with Matt's softer lyrics. Citizen Erased quickly builds back up to the heaviness of the intro, then comes back down for the outro. This song is really the quintessential Muse track. It has everything, rocking, funky guitar riffs, weird effects, fantastic bass and drumming work, beautiful piano, and of course Matt's falsetto. As for the themes of Citizen Erased, Matt had this to say. "It's an expression of what it feels like to be questioned. I spend more time than most people being asked about purpose, and it's a strange feeling. I don't really have the answers and I have to respond on the knowledge I have obtained so far, but the problem is that it gets printed, and something else has come along that's made you completely disagree with what you said." This truly is, in the opinion of myself and many others, the best Muse song ever released.
Micro Cuts: Right off the bat, something needs to be addressed about this album. The transitions between songs are absolutely fantastic. Citizen Erased ends with this siren sound effect, which then perfectly continues into Micro Cuts. It adds a sense of connection throughout the album that no other Muse album has done. As for the song itself, Micro Cuts might be one of the most unique Muse songs. For starters, the entire song features Matt singing with his falsetto. How he is able to sing for an entire three-minute song multiple octaves above the normal range is beyond me. The song is also very funky and heavy overall. Switching between 4/4, 3/4, 5/4, and 6/4 time, the feel is just very weird overall. In both 5/4 and 3/4, the odd time signatures give Micro Cuts more of a tango feel. It works, however. If you can, listen to Micro Cuts with headphones. The hard-hitting outro moves back and forth across the ears, which is just the cherry on top. While the falsetto might not be everyone's thing, it works really well with the rest of the album as well as by itself.
Screenager: So earlier, I made the statement that every single track on Origin of Symmetry is just fantastic. Screenager might be the one exception. This track is generally agreed to be the worst of the album, and it still is a good song. Just goes to show how good Origin of Symmetry really is. The track is tonally different from most of the album, being more of a love or breakup song which features slower moving parts. The guitar, instead of being electric, is acoustic. Screenager is still a good song with unique elements, it just isn't quite on the same level as the rest of the album.
Darkshines: Muse returns the funk with this one. The guitar riffs in Darkshines are heavy, weird, and epic. Matt also showcases his vocal range. Each time the song reaches the main chorus, Matt makes his voice higher and even begins screaming at the end. The guitar also moves up with him, giving the track a darker atmosphere while still providing power and energy from all three members of the band. The lyrics themselves are a bit suggestive, " So be mine, and your innocence I will consume.", which leaves listeners with an uneasy feeling. Darkshines really works well as a funky and heavy song towards the end of the album.
Feeling Good: To get the obvious out of the way, yes this song is a cover of the original by Anthony Newley. I recommend listening to both to get a sense of the difference between the two. The most notable difference is the megaphone section that Muse added. For the entire second verse, Matt is singing through a megaphone. While it does make his lyrics harder to understand, it adds the uniqueness required for any cover. Matt also dips into his falsetto a bit, creating a worthy cover of Feeling Good.
Megalomania: If Muse had one song to be the theme for a villain, this would be it. This song features the usual electric guitar, bass, and drums for instruments, but also includes pipe organ. With the organ, Muse created a foreboding atmosphere filled with tension. The intro, using only the pipe organ, leads into some fantastic lyrics in the chorus. "When I am gone, it won't be long, before I disturb you in the dark. And paradise comes at a price, that I am not prepared to pay. What were we before? Will someone tell me, please? Take off your disguise, I know that underneath it's me." While the main lyrics are all sung in regular octaves, Matt harmonizes in falsetto with the organ during the outro. The combination of all these elements create a fantastic ending for the album.
Origin of Symmetry is truly Muse's magnum opus. The transitions, the songs, the lyrics, the bass, the guitar, the drums, everything about it is simply phenomenal. It continues the themes found from Showbiz while also being its own thing. As I mentioned before, this is one of three Muse albums that is just about perfect. As for live comparisons, the one song I heard live in April was Plug in Baby. For the live performance, Matt added a call-and-response intro with the Kaoss Pad, which is a synthesizer attachment for the guitar. He would play a note, then we responded by screaming. After building to the highest note, they began the song. It sounded absolutely fantastic live, with Matt hitting every single high note. After finishing the song with an outro inspired by Guns and Roses, the song received the loudest cheering of the night. An absolutely fantastic performance.
Between Plug in Baby and Citizen Erased being two of the best Muse songs ever combined with how great the rest of the album is, Origin of Symmetry gets a 10/10. Next time, we will look at the second part of "The Big Three" for Muse's album, Absolution.
Kaku, Michio, and Robert O’Keefe. Hyperspace: A scientific odyssey through parallel universes, Time Warps and the tenth dimension. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Lyrics Written by Matthew James Bellamy
“Origin of Symmetry (Album).” MuseWiki, April 8, 2023. https://www.musewiki.org/Origin_of_Symmetry_(album).
Austin Eide is currently a junior at Poudre High School. This will be his first year writing for the Poudre Press. He enjoys playing trumpet in Pep Band and is also Captain of the Build Team for 159 Alpine Robotics. Austin also loves building with LEGO and making stop motion movies on YouTube. His blog is dedicated to music, hockey, band, and more!