Top 10 Muse Songs
I’m seeing Muse in concert tonight, and I could not be more excited for it.
I’ve been obsessed with their newest effort, Simulation Theory, and I have no doubt that this concert at Madison Square Garden is going to be a techno-synth-metal-glam rock showcase.
But since I neglected to publish a March Wrap Sheet, I thought I would make it up to both you and myself by publishing some lists I have long been meaning to publish- and, most importantly, get back to my roots of writing countdown lists.
So, since my life takes me to see one of my favorite bands live, let’s take a look at the Muse catalogue and count down my ten favorite songs.
I did my best to try to include at least one song from each studio album, and if I omitted one, I can only say that I am well aware that a majority of the band’s work is excellent, and my brain will only allow my attention span to write about ten plus a few honorable mentions.
So, plug in, baby. Let’s count em’ down.
Is it “Starlight?” Is it a Weezer song? It could be both. It starts out with a piano melody present throughout the song, doubling Matthew Bellamy’s vocals, but transforms into this emotional hook, with warm, full guitar power chords, and soaring falsetto from the lead singer.
I also really love the first line of the song about the singer “fallen from the inside,” noting that the dark forces introduced in another song on this album are starting to take hold. That’s one of the reasons I love this band and its albums- they never forget what the themes are, and each album and subsequent song is carefully crafted to tell a story. It’s incredibly intricate and intelligent storytelling and it should not be taken for granted. Isn’t it great when pop music can be both fun and dramatic at the same time?
"Map of the Problematique"
This one reminds me of Depeche Mode, based on the wholly electronic sound (which was originally a synthesizer and transferred to guitar in later sessions)- it’s got this really interesting, almost mechanical sound, which intensifies in urgency during the chorus as piano and strings (I think?) fly above everything else happening.
This was one of the later singles to come from Black Holes and Revelations, released almost a full year after the first single from the album, a song we’ll get to later.
It is no surprise that this song is often paired with “Plug in Baby,”- the two are similar both in tempo and sound. But “Stockholm Syndrome” definitely gets more metal as the track plays on, not to mention the theme.
If you’re not familiar, Stockholm Syndrome is the term for when hostages feel sympathy for their captors. Think the Norrmalmstorg bank robbery in Sweden in the 70s for where the term is coined, or Beauty and the Beast, if you’re less familiar with that historical event.
"Time is Running Out"
More vague meaning, but a continuation of overarching themes from the band here. Since the song comes from Absolution, much of the album (and “Time is Running Out” is no exception) echos an impending apocalypse, the feeling of emergency or even chaos. “Time is Running Out” could also be about some kind of strained relationship, but the instrumentals suggest something much more dire taking place in the background.
Also, it’s got this really cool groove featuring Bellamy’s eerie falsetto during the chorus that I can certainly get down to.
“Dig Down” reminds me a lot of another song on this list- an uplifting anthem for people to get up and fight for what they believe in. It’s got this steady beat that harkens to a pickaxe or a shovel piercing the dirt below (hence the title, duh).
Like most of Muse’s softer stuff, the song builds and builds slowly, before erupting into a shout from the rooftops, complete with harmony and a guitar solo. There’s also this really great alternate version from Simulation Theory that is an acoustic version featuring a gospel choir. It’s pretty moving.
"The 2nd Law: Unsustainable"
“Unsustainable” tells the tale of a planet strapped for resources that are finally beginning to dwindle. It features this really cool instrumental section arranged and conducted by David Campbell, who has worked with Metallica, before exploding into this dramatic techno-inspired section.
What I love most about “Unsustainable” is the dubstep aspect of it, and how all of it is done using actual instruments instead of a laptop. When that drop happens, it’s impossible to not want to bang your head. This song was some of the first sampling from The 2nd Law, although the song was never released as a single.
I love it when we see Muse’s softer side, as evidence by “Something Human,” from Simulation Theory. It’s about a robot breaking free from his circuits and wanting to experience something real in this world- something human… or at least, that’s how I feel about it. The lyrics also make mention of being on the road for way too long, another reason for a possible lighter tone.
The peaceful keyboards and acoustic guitar make for a more chill road song- and if you listen to the alternate acoustic version, you get right down to the mood the band is going for.
The Top 10:
10. "Panic Station"
The same people who worked on “Panic Station” also worked on “Superstition.” Yes, that “Superstition.”
“Panic Station” bring the funk, as shown by its synth and disco-inspired bass and percussion during the chorus. Chris Wolstenholme’s bass is heavily featured, as we get some rare bass chords in the main lick.
9. "Plug In Baby"
Muse’s very first hit, “Plug In Baby” is not techno-infused like in songs from Black Holes and Revelations or The 2nd Law, nor is it very politically themed like in Drones or The Resistance. Instead, we get way more of an early 2000s alternative, bare bones feel from the band’s first studio album, Origin of Symmetry. “Plug In Baby” feels raw and authentic, and we hear some early Bellamy falsetto here, right where it all began for the group. Obviously this was a step in the right direction.
Is it a coincidence that this song is legitimately a march? I don’t think so. “Psycho”, and even Drones as a whole sees the band return to its rock roots, and focuses way more on those guitar riffs we love so much.
Told from the perspective of a military higher-up, the song essentially tells the listener, a soldier, that “your ass belongs to me” and that you’ll be turned into a killing machine, or “human drone.” And if that wasn’t subtle enough, the drill sergeant literally yelling in the background will probably drill the message home. This song is simple but incredibly effective.
A horn section in a Muse song? What??? I mean it’s not totally unheard of, they did use it in songs like “Panic Station” and “Supremacy.”
“Pressure” is excellent. We don’t see many of these “stomp-clap” songs from the band, so this pop-friendly track from Simulation Theory is a breath of fresh air.
From the opening bass lick right on down, “Hysteria” rocks. Wolstenholme definitely carries the entire song with his bass work, laying down a platform for Bellamy’s frantic guitar work, both of which blend beautifully during the chorus. The song’s lyrics come from someone who’s lost their mind over craving the love of another. You can almost feel the terror and insanity take over during the course of the song, especially as one of the songs many bass riffs descends dramatically. This song is chilling, and a banger to boot.
Okay, one more fact about the bass in this song (just because it’s so good), Wolstemholme’s bass was voted the best bassline of all time in a poll by MusicRadar. Cool.
As the second track from Black Holes and Revelations, “Starlight” is a jarring, more pop-friendly change from the edgier, more techno-infused “Take a Bow,” from which it emerges. From the friendly piano melody over the chorus to its more light-hearted lyrics and softer crooning from Matthew Bellamy, it becomes clear that “Starlight” is first and foremost a love song. According to Wolstenholme, “Starlight” was the hardest song to record, but it is clear that all that hard work paid off, as it has become one of Muse’s most recognizable songs.
4. "Supermassive Black Hole"
This industrial-rock track from Black Holes and Revelations has a very interesting, unique feel about it. It’s got that dance-funk-sex appeal song to it that a band like Franz Ferdinand would do very well. But of course, because it’s Muse, what kind of song would it be if it didn’t equate sexual desire with cosmology? Think Prince combined with Marilyn Manson on this one. Regardless, it’s all excellent. I wouldn’t even think too deeply about this one. It’s best to just relax and let the “glaciers melting in the dead of night/and the superstars melt into the supermassive” take you away.
This song is a turn, fully immersing the band into this electronic mood they were in for the building of The 2nd Law. Starting with this brilliant “ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma” that carries through the song, “Madness” is mostly this silky smooth R&B tune that forms a warm relationship with the synthesizer. Every so often we get these treats of vocal harmony, even one that builds on top of each other in dramatic fashion. What I notice is that most (if not all) the harmonies take place on the word “Madness,” almost as if the song’s narrator is slowly spiraling out of control, like his mind is sprawling, just on that singular word.
And then there’s that guitar solo. That beautifully out of place guitar solo. It’s crunchy, distorted and frantic, but it works so well, always coming back home at the end of each phrase. And by the end of the song, we get this dramatic, desperate last iteration of the chorus.
God, I love this song. Who said madness didn’t have to be orderly?
I can always bop to “Uprising,” no matter my mood. A song about taking down the powers that be, the chorus is this glorious anthem that you just want to shout from the rooftops. By the sheer fact that almost everyone knows the words to the hook, this is probably Muse’s best-known song. I personally love the rhythm guitar patterns in the verses myself, paired with the increasing urgency of Bellamy’s vocals with every line. Lines like “if you could flick a switch and open your third eye” and “rise up and take the power back/it’s time the fat cats had a heart attack” just inspire me. And then there’s that quintessential Muse guitar riff in the bridge. This one’s got it all for a successful pop song, as well as a song that fits right in with the band prog-rock style.
1. "Knights of Cydonia"
This was the first Muse song I ever heard. It was a part of the Guitar Hero 3 song list, and it featured these really hard quick strums and scales. It clocks in at just over 6 minutes, Muse’s longest until “The Globalist” came along. It’s got elements of Spaghetti Western film soundtrack, surfer rock, synthesized techno, and modern hard rock. The lyrics tell about the Cydonia region of Mars, make reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and even a self-empowerment anthem. “Knights of Cydonia” truly has it all.
It has been described as “Forty years of rock history in six minutes,” which I will absolutely concede. This song goes through so many moods, it’s incredibly easy to get lost in, especially because there aren’t many lyrics in it. It’s like riding a horse through space, then through hell and back, and into this dark arena with lasers flying everywhere. And then it explodes into this fantastic barrage of hard rock and vocal harmony. On many live performances (most notably in the band’s concert at Rome’s Olympic Stadium), the intro is paired with “Harmonica” by Ennio Morricone, inspired from Once Upon a Time in the West.
“Knights of Cydonia” is everything I love about Muse. The dramatics, the themes, the instrumentation, the balance between intricacy and simplicity, and just power of it all. This song is truly great, and you’re lying to yourself if you think it’s not.
What's your favorite Muse song? Drop a comment down below.