Welcome to aMUSEings, where for the next nine weeks we will be taking a closer look at each album from Muse. For those who don't know, Muse is an alternative, progressive, space, hard, and electronic rock band who started in 1999. The band consists of lead vocalist and guitarist Matthew Bellamy, bassist and backup vocalist Christopher Wolstenholme, and drummer Dominic Howard. This trio have time and time again dazzled in both live performances and studio releases. Today, Muse are one of the biggest names in rock music. But everyone has to start somewhere, and Muse weren't always as big as they are today. So let's take a look at the band's debut album. From all the way back in 1999, it's Showbiz.
First, to set the stage. Throughout the 1990's, grunge and hip hop had been two of the biggest genres of music. Then, alternative rock began to rise up the charts. Bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Cranberries were big names, but none quite so as Radiohead. Between their debut album Pablo Honey in 1993 and The Bends in 1995, Radiohead truly were the kings of alternative rock. But in 1994, a new band called Muse formed. After recording their own demos, Muse released Showbiz to the world on October 4th, 1999. The album contained 12 tracks, clocking in at 49 minutes and 36 seconds. Throughout the course of the album, themes of love, hardship, angst, pain, and anger all appear in one form or another. Here are some of the standout tracks from the album.
Sunburn: The first studio Muse track, so quite a lot of pressure on this first impression, and man, it delivers. Starting with a lifting piano riff intro, the first verse adds drums, bass, and vocals. The tone is somewhat uplifting, yet there's a layer of pain behind the whole thing. As the track moves into the chorus, you can really begin to feel the power in Bellamy's vocals. The theme of toxic relationships is heavily prevalent, as Matt sings, "She burns like the sun, and I can't look away. She'll burn our horizons, make no mistake." Such powerful lyrics that are accentuated by Dom's drumming and Chris' bass work. After the second verse and chorus, Matt breaks out the guitar, giving fans their first taste of his truly fantastic ability to both sing and play. The solo, filled with high pitched, screamy, and fast paced notes, is followed by the last verse. Bellamy gives a taste of his future signature voice, as he is on the verge of screaming. This track is a fantastic beginning to not just the album, but Muse in general.
Muscle Museum: Another standout from the album. Beginning with a guitar intro accompanied by Wolstenholme's back and forth bass work, Muscle Museum really is the perfect continuation from Sunburn. The song actually begins with two verses, again with a grooving bassline from Chris. As it moves into the chorus, Muse gives us a glimpse of what would become their signature sound. Matt's guitar work has something indescribable about it. He is almost going metal, but not quite all the way. The result is epic, hard hitting, unfiltered rock. Finally, the song ends with Bellamy releasing the falsetto. As we will come to see, Matt has the ability to sing higher than some female voices, and still make it sound amazing. His screaming high note fades into the final guitar solo, which in and of itself works quite well to close the track. Combined with Howard's drumming, this song really highlights what would eventually make Muse so special.
Cave: If heavy and funk were to be combined into one song, this would be it. Cave has an undeniable groove to it. You feel like bouncing your shoulders back and forth to Wolstenholme's bass and tapping your feet to Howard's drumming. Themes of isolation yet defiance against a former lover really highlight this track. Aside from the guitar and vocals, Matt also showcases his piano skills with a full solo to close out Cave. Throughout this song, you can also hear some funky effects on the guitar, which will become a Muse signature. Yet another great track from a great album.
Uno: On paper, Uno sounds like a mess. It's a tango with elements of rock and metal that has lyrics about denial and breakup backed by a killer bassline. However, all of these elements combine to create a fantastic atmosphere for a song. Uno is all about flying solo after the anger of being denied or a breakup, which translates into a beautifully painful song. The lyrics, " You could have been number one, you could have ruled the whole world. We could have had so much fun, but you blew it away." help to highlight this.
Showbiz: Along with being the title track, Showbiz is arguably the best song from the album. This song is one of the few from Showbiz to still occasionally make an appearance in their live shows. Showbiz is lyrically similar, at least in theming, to Uno. "Controlling my feelings for too long." Opening with a drum solo, Matt's lyrics repeat themselves as the song builds towards the chorus. The guitar, matching with the lyrics, has an almost haunting vibe to it. Through the song, Matt's guitar work slowly gets more intense, along with his singing. The highlight of this song is the finale. Bellamy breaks out his falsetto one more time, but this one is different. He completely lets go, allowing for one of his highest ever recorded notes. The note works perfectly to accentuate the constant theme of pain throughout the album. Matt's falsetto is always something to behold, especially because it has reason. He isn't just singing because he can. He is singing to prove the themes of his music, and because it sounds absolutely incredible.
While these tracks are amazing, there are a few songs that don't quite live up to the standouts. That being said, they aren't to be overlooked. Unintended is a heartfelt, emotional song that shows Muse aren't just great at writing rock music. And while not as good as the highlights, Fillip, Falling Down, Sober, Escape, Overdue, and Hate This and I'll Love You all have unique elements that contribute to Showbiz' greatness.
One of Showbiz'' biggest strengths is not trying to be something too big. The album doesn't try to be anything it's not, and is all the more better for it. Overall, the best thing about Showbiz is how it sets Muse up for the future. You can really hear the little things here and there that will become signatures of Muse's sound. It's not perfect, but in my opinion, Muse really couldn't have gotten where they are today without this album. Showbiz earns a 7/10.
One additional note: throughout this series you will see me compare the studio releases to their live counterparts which played on this year's tour. Showbiz was the only album Muse didn't play any tracks from, so no comparisons this time around.
Next time we will look at Origin of Symmetry, considered by many to be Muse's magnum opus.
Decade overview: The 1990’s in rock music history. Accessed September 14, 2023. https://www.rockmusictimeline.com/1990-s.
“Showbiz (Album).” MuseWiki. Accessed September 14, 2023. https://www.musewiki.org/Showbiz_(album).
Lyrics Written by Matthew James Bellamy
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!