12 Years Ago: Muse’s ‘Origin of Symmetry’ Album Released
It’s fitting that Muse’s ‘Origin of Symmetry’ came out in 2001. The band, which has made a career of psych-electro-classical-theatre pop, followed up its popular 1999 debut, ‘Showbiz,’ with a space odyssey of an album, and it was on this day 12 years ago that they revealed their new heights of sonic invention.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. Controversy kept the record from being released in the United States until 2005, and in a 2009 interview with Spin, Muse’s lead singer, Matthew Bellamy, recounted that the band’s then-label, Madonna’s Maverick Records, had requested that they alter ‘Symmetry’ and make it more radio friendly. In other words, the suits wanted Bellamy to take his signature Jeff Buckley- or Thom Yorke-esque falsettos down a few notches. When the band refused, the label balked, the parties parted ways and America was out of the picture. (Obviously, ‘Origin’ didn’t reach the Billboard charts.)
The controversy undoubtedly had a lot to do with why it took U.S. listeners so long to catch on to Muse’s Queen-meets-Rush aesthetic. It’s perfect American stadium-sized rock, and it was only a matter of time before yankee prog fans found it and got on board. Had ‘Origin of Symmetry’ actually arrived in America in 2001, it would have fit snugly in between the proggy metal of System of a Down’s ‘Toxicity’ and countrymen Radiohead’s ‘Amnesiac.’ This, of course, makes Maverick’s attempts to tone down the band’s sound seem all the more bewildering.
Like Rush, Muse makes their orchestral sound appear effortless. On ‘Symmetry,’ the band picks up the framework they’d begun building on ‘Showbiz’ and takes it a giant step forward, going for a full-tilt pro-aggressive — as in progressive meets aggressive — sound. This includes more screaming vocals and layered guitars (‘Hyper Music’); additional guitar, piano, bass and drum effects; plenty of Bellamy’s arpeggiated piano soundscapes (‘Space Dementia’); and the use of non-live-show-friendly instruments like a church’s pipe organ.
Also of note is the album’s lone cover, ‘Feeling Good,’ a 1965 tune artists as diverse as Nina Simone, Eels and Michael Buble have tackled over the years. Paired with ‘Hyper Music,’ ‘Feeling Good,’ served as the record’s fourth single and hit No. 24 on the U.K. charts, where the album itself peaked at No. 3.