Retrospective Review: Muse - Absolution

One thing about Muse that you certainly cannot deny is that they don't stand still. It's what defines them. The Muse of the 2010s was very different to the Muse of the decade before, and you can bet that the 2020s will see Muse branch out even further.

This makes the debate of their best work very difficult indeed, because it truly is down to personal taste. There are likely fans of the band who jumped onboard due to the more electronic sound that can be found on albums such as The 2nd Law and Simulation Theory, whereas their original fanbase will remember when it was rather different. Though synthesizers have always played a big role on Muse albums, their earlier work was built more around, shall we say, analogue instrumentation. Heavy guitars (with no chaos pads), Dom's powerful drumming and Chris' groovy bass lines formed the basis of much of Muse's earlier work, with synths normally used more as textural instruments. It also wouldn't go amiss to mention the strong presence of the Piano on this album, often - though not always - used rather aggressively.

This form of Muse peaked in 2003. The release of Showbiz in 1999 saw mixed reviews, with many labelling the band as derivative and "Radiohead clones". Keen to prove these people wrong, the band's release of 2001's Origin of Symmetry catapulted them to the top, peaking at #1 on the UK charts and establishing themselves firmly amongst the elite of British rock. All they had to do now was stabilise this success and ensure it wasn't just a brief visit to the party.

Enter Absolution. Released in 2003, this album was Muse at the peak of their powers - at least, this version of Muse. From the electrifying riffage found on 'Stockholm Syndrome', 'The Small Print' and 'Hysteria', to the calm and ethereal tones of 'Blackout' and 'Falling Away With You', to the groovy bass line that leads 'Time Is Running Out', this showed a Muse that was diverse, creative and capable of world domination. Glimpses of what was to come are present, but this was a Muse that somehow managed to be both polished and raw, heavy and mellow, with 'Butterflies and Hurricanes' perhaps best exemplifying this. The song is a microcosm of the album as a whole, starting slow and mellow but soon incorporating heavier elements whilst retaining its melodic nature. It's one of the many outstanding songs found on this album.

The consistency of Absolution is what truly raises it above Muse's other albums. Many of their records are great, but this album serves track after track of brilliance. It's a more refined album than what they had made previously, a factor no doubt due to their decision to "get together in a room and make music", rather than do what they had done previously - record during pre-arranged tour breaks. This previous method caused them to rush the albums, but that wasn't the case for Absolution and it shows. Everything feels hand-crafted, yet fine-tuned, in order to achieve just the right balance for the music.

It's a culmination of what they started on Showbiz and improved upon with Origin of Symmetry. Absolution feels like all of their ideas coming together, the final station of their journey, and perhaps this explains why the band would soon start experimenting with their sound, beginning with their very next album. After all, it's never a good idea to rehash exactly the same thing over and over again - unless you're AC/DC.

That being said, there remains a good number of fans who wish that Muse would return to these roots, and Drones wasn't too far away. Indeed, the guitar riff for 'Psycho', released in 2015, had often been used during encores following Stockholm Syndrome, including at Glastonbury 2004.

Absolution was Bellamy and co. at the top of their game; a towering record full of creativity and diversity. It topped the charts in the UK and made waves worldwide - including in the USA, where this album hit 107 on the Billboard 200. It may sound lowly now, but this was the record that broke them across the Atlantic. There's no doubt that they are a bigger, more famous band now than they were then, but that success wouldn't exist without Absolution. Whether it will go down in the annuls of music history as a record for the ages is hard to say, but it'd be difficult to begrudge it a place there. It's simply a fantastic album, and one all rock fans should have in their collection.