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Albums Of The Decade: #24

Origin Of Symmetry - Muse [2001]

Oh, Muse. What happened? Why are you trying to become Queen? Why did you disappear completely up your own (or is it Brian May's?) arse?

Why don't you make albums like this any more?

It's strange what hindsight can do to one's appreciation of a record. Usually, when a band loses the plot some time later their earlier efforts are hailed as masterpieces. With Muse, though, their new... 'direction' taints it. It shouldn't, but it does. And so an album that once would have made my all-time favourites list drops right down the pecking order.

As it happens, this was chosen only marginally ahead of Absolution and Black Holes And Revelations, which stepped increasingly close to the pretension precipice before The Resistance gave up all, well, resistance and plunged off the edge. If that was the musical equivalent of jumping the shark, its two closest predecessors were the true happy days, when the horizon still glowed bright and the future didn't hold The United States of fucking Eurasia.

But looking back, Origin Of Symmetry is the album that Muse, if they never get back on track, should be remembered for (yes, I am writing their obituary here). It was the album that made them, both in terms of success - Plug In Baby and the radio-unfriendly six-minute Newborn became their biggest chart hits - and self-belief.

And in Origin Of Symmetry, it's justified. The opening opuses (opii?), a trio of classically-influenced pieces, fall just the right side of pomposity and manage to make prog-rock worth listening to again (ELO, we hardly knew ye). The unsubtle piano to guitar transition in Newborn, something of a shortlived trademark given later single In Your World's near-like-for-like copy, may be as amusing as it is rawk but it's still a great tune, while Bliss is a damn good pop song.

Space Dementia, meanwhile, is probably the album's best moment: the one time their original attempt to be 'Rachmaninov meets Rage Against The Machine' - their words, I seem to recall - worked perfectly. From the opening piano solo to the melodramatic rock 'n' roll ending, it's amazingly ludicrous and in turn, ludicrously amazing. Listen to Hullabaloo's live version for the full effect.

To Muse's credit, the album doesn't slow down after such a strong start. Hyper Music is bouncy, Plug In Baby is riff-y and impressively falsetto-y and Citizen Erased is Citizen Erased. This song has won itself into the hearts of Muse fans - it's probably the most beloved song they're ever made - and you can see why: an epic deserving of the name.

The lesser lights of Screenager and Darkshines (originally meant as a single), plus a now ubiquitous cover of Feeling Good that hasn't aged well, do let the side down but Origin Of Symmetry does end on a massive high with the bombastic, and in hindsight all-too-aptly titled, Megalomania. It almosts acts as a simultaneous epilogue to their first sound and the prologue to their next. It's brooding and dark ("The good news is she can't have babies") but utterly ridiculous (again, more so live), although in this case, the better for it. It's a fitting end to a top album.

Oh, Muse. What happened?

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Albums Of The Decade: #24 + TIME