Wednesday, April 09, 2008

MUSE - H.A.A.R.P. review

Please welcome a new contributor to the blog.

Paul Campbell is casting his critical ear over the music world's offering from now on. Paul has had a flourishing musical career with northern Irish band The Smiles. To start with, he's been listening to to Muse.

Muse – HAARP

(Warner Brothers)


Nine years, five albums and twenty singles into their career, you would forgive Muse for releasing a greatest hits compilation. Save for a mighty splash of crowd noise, the mandatory four drumstick clicks prior to each song, and the occasional post-cheer ‘thank you’ from the electric-eelesque Matt Bellamy this live CD sounds much like a Muse Best Of. To their credit – and discredit – Muse have reproduced the spirit and sound of their records onstage.

A great band playing great songs makes for a great record, but not a great live record. Sure, Muse are pitch, note and beat perfect, but they don’t embellish on their music to present it in a radical new light. The great live albums show us a side of a band we would never hear on their records. Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York gave us Kurt Cobain singing Leadbelly in a cardigan. And more recently and locally The Frames’ Set List offered Glen Hansard singing Bob Marley and telling a story about an old (dfor) dog and a white car.

The DVD is a different animal altogether. Sure, it still sounds like a Muse mixtape playing in your car stereo while a few people shout in the back seat, but the added visual component transforms the show into a spectacle. New Wembley looks immense; the crowd – all 70,000 of them – look mid-orgasm throughout; the stage is mammoth; the lights are mesmerizing and spellbinding; and the band look composed, and more than anything, at home.

The paramount bonus of the DVD format is that it allows you to see the band play. It seems unlikely, but you need to witness Matt Bellamy play guitar and piano with your eyes to appreciate the complexity of his compositions. The bass sounds meaty and driving on the record, but only when you watch Dominic Howard play do you recognise the enormity of his influence on Muse’s masterpieces. It’s the same with the drumming; the fills may burst out of the stereo, but when you see them in close-up during ‘Invincible’ you half expect the old Twin Towers to reform from rubble and come marching down Wembley Way.

If the release of HAARP says anything about Muse it is this: they make intricate and dominating music and can reproduce it with astonishing panache onstage. The whole Muse live experience cannot be contained on a live CD, and to be realistic you’re not likely to get it while watching a DVD in your lounge. If you want to experience Muse live, go see them play. HAARP will only ever be a poor man’s substitute.

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