Matt Bellamy performing for the denizens of Hell. He later fought his way out using the power of rock. Artwork by the author.
Rock music, inherently, is corny, gross, pandering, stupid, stubbornly unaccepting of changing trends while also extremely self-conscious of how it’s perceived by others. We could talk all day about how the genre might be hitting a wall, having its signifiers co-opted by rap, where the whole thing can go from here, but for now let us talk about the band that does rock music best because they do rock music the dumbest. I am talking, of course, about Muse.
Muse don’t just make rock, they make Grand Power Music. They make stupendously outrageous modern rock that pretends to be prog rock, isn’t actually prog rock, and ends up being better than most prog rock. They are three skinny English dudes (sometimes four, shout outs to live member Morgan Nicholls) who, if their instruments were muscles, would be more ripped than Brock Lesnar, Ronda Rousey, and Astaroth from the Soulcalibur games combined. No one on this planet knows what the hell Matt Bellamy is singing about but it doesn’t matter because who said he was singing to this planet and its puny lifeforms? Chris Wolstenholme is the band’s secret weapon. He doesn’t just play bass, he plays badass. And Dominic Howard probably eats steel and live scorpions for breakfast in order to fuel his drumming.
Is this man human?
Like many an impressionable rocker teen, I learned about Muse through Guitar Hero 3, a game whose entire setlist includes timeless rock standards such as “Dani California” and Disturbed’s “Stricken.” I could probably write a whole paragraph about “Knights of Cydonia.” I don’t hear any dissenters so I’m going to do that now. “Knights of Cydonia” is what would play if you were fighting a boss, but in real life and not in some shitty World of Warcraft rip-off. “Knights of Cydonia” is the soundtrack to the apocalypse, if that apocalypse were also the UFC finals. “Knights of Cydonia” is what the heat death of universe will sound like and it is the sound of rock ‘n’ roll.
Muse have great songs and great albums that are a blast to listen to, but truly they are a band of moments. These are particularly momentous moments so let’s refer to them as Muse Musical Moments of Monolithic Massive Matt a.k.a. M6s. Thus, entirely unprompted, here is a list of the greatest M6s, ranked. Each M6 is scored out of five possible heavy vehicles because a good M6 should make you feel like you want to put your fist through an entire Hummer. There’s no Hummer emoji so, for an appropriately UK bonus, we’ll use the "articulated lorry" emoji instead.
WHEN THE RIFF KICKS IN ON "NEW BORN"
This fuzz tone is the sound of God shitting on your life. Except in this case, Matt Bellamy is your God.
5 out of 5 lorries punched
WHEN MATT BELLAMY SCREAMS “I WILL AVEEEEEEEEEEENGE” ON “CITY OF DELUSION”
Avenge what, exactly? Again, irrelevant. Once that string section hits you are transported to a vaguely exotic interplanetary battleground, fragging bug-aliens with a plasma rifle. You are the space commando. It’s you.
6 out of 5 lorries punched
THE ENTIRE PIANO SOLO IN “BUTTERFLIES AND HURRICANES”
Do other rock singers know what diminished chords are, let alone actually know how to play them on piano? Do other musicians even know who Sergei Rachmaninoff is? I scoff at the notion. Still, this is more mesmerizing rather than purely Hummer-punching so this gets a different score.
3 out of 5 lorries punched
5 out of 5 sparkly arpeggios
WHEN “SURVIVAL” ENDED UP AS THE OFFICIAL 2012 SUMMER OLYMPICS THEME SONG
Who did this and how can we congratulate them? What an incredible piece of music this is. Like, fuck catchy hooks, fuck messages of unity and hope, all you need is seven-string guitars, piano ostinatos, and the galaxy-annihilating desire to WIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN.
5 out of 5 lorries punched
WHEN MATT BELLAMY ALMOST SINGS THE WORD “MUSE” ON “I BELONG TO YOU” BUT STOPS SHORT
“Wait, Phil!” I hear you crying. “This song? Over ‘United States of Eurasia’? A song that features a literal choir of thousands chanting the glories of a fictional police state and also Chopin?” Firstly, get out of my goddamn piece. Secondly, this M6 is better because it’s the one time Muse have acknowledged their own absurdity within a song. Through this, we receive affirmation that, yes, putting an honest-to-Matt Bellamy operatic aria in the middle of a rock song is pretty dumb but isn’t that also a great fucking idea that no one else is doing?
If more musicians–especially when keeping a veneer of icy cool seems to be a default press strategy–decided to follow their ridiculous, passionate impulses, toss concepts of taste into the trash, and do more dumb shit in their songs, wouldn’t discovering music be more… fun? In any case, Camille Saint-Saëns owns.
100 out of 5 lorries punched
Phil will not apologize for this. Follow him on Twitter.