From their first release in 1999 with Showbiz to their most recent 2012 offering The 2nd Law, Muse have grown from “that band everyone compares to Radiohead” to one of the most bombastic, theatrical rock outfits in the world. Picking ten of their best songs that represent the huge diversity of Muse’s sound means getting a cross-section that includes prog-rock flavors, rock-tinged piano ballads, and funky dance tracks. While some classics inevitably got left off this list (sorry, “Bliss” and “Hysteria”), if you’re looking to get the best of Muse, these tracks are your best place to start.
1.“Fury” from Absolution
A B-side off of Absolution, “Fury” is hands down the sexiest song ever recorded about atheism. It’s as dark and brooding as Muse songs come, and the guitar alternates between mid-paced staccato arpeggios and long, intensely trippy grooves. Add in the growl of Chris Wolstenholme’s fuzzy bass in the background, and you’ve got a doozy of a track that headily sweeps and swirls over you.
2. “Stockholm Syndrome” from Absolution
Some might point to “Knights of Cydonia” as the best pure rock song of Muse’s career, but I’m siding with “Stockholm Syndrome.” It’s a pure frenetic masterpiece the entire way through. Matt Bellamy pulls out all the vocal stops on this one. He croons in a falsetto one second, only to break out the earnest shrieking in the next. “Stockholm” features some of the heaviest guitar work he’s ever played; the solo and outro are like double punches to the gut. Dominic Howard’s drums are somehow both incredibly precise and totally madcap.
3. “Panic Station” from The 2nd Law
The recipe for this track goes something like this: two parts Franz Ferdinand-esque groove, one part brass from Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party,” and a healthy dash of Prince for good measure. On paper, that combination looks insane, but it’s just crazy enough to work for one of the most diverse songs Muse have ever recorded. Bar none the best song they’ve released from their last two albums, “Panic Station” is a dance-rock track done right. It opens with staccato beats and plenty of vocal reverb, and once the guitar and horns kick in, it’s impossible not to dance.
4. “New Born” from Origin Of Symmetry
“New Born” is one of the best examples of incorporating a classical piano in a rock song. The piano line that opens this track is downright fragile, which makes the moment when the distorted guitar rips in all the more staggering. For me, the bass of this song beats out “Hysteria” as the best line Wolstenholme has ever played; it’s unrelentingly fast for the entire song. Bellamy’s pleading “Just break the silence ‘cause I’m drifting away” is one of his simplest, purest lyrics to date.
5. “Map Of The Problematique” from Black Holes And Revelations
Synths and distortions play in pretty heavily on the Depeche Mode-inspired “Problematique,” but Howard’s drum fills are the real star of the show. On a lot of tracks, he’s pretty dependent on his snares (“New Born” is actually a top offender), and this is a welcome change from that. Everything instrumental, from Wolstenholme’s Rickenbacker bass line to the metallic synths to the aforementioned tight drum fills, matches up together perfectly. Some of Bellamy’s finest lyrics (“Why can’t we see / That when we bleed, we bleed the same?”) are just the cherry on top.
6. “Ruled By Secrecy” from Absolution
To the masses, Matt Bellamy is an eccentric guitarist who can coax roller-coaster solos and blisteringly fast arpeggios out of his Manson. But for the hardcore fans, he’s at his best noodling around in front of a piano, and “Ruled by Secrecy” is proof of that. It’s subdued, the tinkling piano line so dreamy it could be a lullaby. That is, until just before the three-minute mark, when that same delicate piano absolutely explodes from out of nowhere. The rest of the track crashes and pounds. It’s a fantastic example of Muse doing what they do best: combining two extremes and making them work.
7. “Plug In Baby” from Origin Of Symmetry
Squealing feedback leads into arguably the best guitar riff Matt Bellamy has ever written. It’s just one extended, spidery arpeggio, but Bellamy takes that Muse instrumental trademark and lets it go on forever. In this case, ‘forever’ never gets old. It’s also one of the best examples of him letting loose on the vocal front; he has one of the best falsettos of any rock band today, and “Plug in Baby” proves it.
8. “Micro Cuts” from Origin Of Symmetry
If “Micro Cuts” were the first Muse song you’d ever heard, you’d probably think the band was some bastard brainchild of an opera singer who’d had a few dozen too many drinks. The wailing vocals are virtually impossible to understand, given that Bellamy sings so closely to the microphone that he’s basically making out with it. “Micro Cuts” is bombastic and over-the-top in all the right ways; the guitar howls, the bass grips you by the spine, and the drums beat you senseless. While “Ruled by Secrecy” is arguably just a really loud piano ballad, “Micro Cuts” is a full melding of the classical and rock styles.
9. “Dead Star” from Hullabaloo Soundtrack
Distortion and delays reign supreme on “Dead Star.” It’s harsh and heavy from the get-go, by far the most metal-inspired Muse track. The guitar and bass sound like dual machine guns during the verses, and Bellamy doesn’t so much sing as snarl. The instrumentals are a perfect example of Muse at their most furious. With all of the effects, you’d think this song would end up sounding over-produced; instead it just sounds perfectly raw, and considering the lyrics are just one giant middle finger – “You used to be everything to me” – that works out just perfectly.
10. “Citizen Erased” from Origin Of Symmetry
For many fans, “Citizen Erased” is the definitive Muse song, the Holy Grail that’s produced when literally everything about a track is perfect. It has everything that makes a Muse track great: a squealing guitar line that leaps octaves, falsetto vocals, simple yet melancholic vocals, arpeggiated background synths paired with growling instrumentals, and a buzzing bass line that holds it all together. The insane opening and solo will make all of your muscles tense up; the mournful, calm midsection and haunting piano outro make every hair stand up on end. “Citizen Erased” drags you along for a hell of a ride.