Straight off the bat, let me just apologise for the lack of a September AM post and the lateness of this post. A Levels has been a lot busier than I thought it would be, a lot more stress inducing as well, as you can see from my previous post.
This also happens to be my first AM post, and having little experience in regards to commenting on music, the format might be a little sloppy with the first few posts, so bear with me here. (In fact this post’s already been a bit sloppy to begin with…anyways, moving on…)
I’m an avid Muse fan. They’re easily one of the top played artists in my music library. Being relatively new to them, having only started listening to them a year ago, the Muse experience has been like a journey on a time machine. I’ve listened to each studio album, and as anyone who’s done so will tell you, there’s a definite evolution noticeable in their work. Most would argue it’s a decline to pop and selling-out, but if anything has been constant throughout the years, it has to be the bombastic, charismatic energy they inspire that you just don’t find anywhere else. That’s why they’ve become such a great go-to band in my collection.
Just when I thought I’ve heard it all, I discovered this album: Hullabaloo Soundtrack. It’s a half B-side, half concert album that was released in 2002, after Origin of Symmetry and before Absolution. When I listened to this album the first time, the first thing that came to mind was Radiohead. It had the dark undertones of Origin, but also incorporated the quiet, composed pining you’d hear from around the release of Showbiz (it’s no wonder really, since some of the B-sides came from that era). If Muse’s discography was a bright and glamorous city (or more fittingly, a burned-down, apocalyptic dystopia), you’d find this album lurking in the darkness deep inside an alleyway, if that makes sense.
I mean that especially for the first half of the album. I can imagine some of these songs being played through the speakers in a basement cafe at 1 in the morning, but of course tracks like Yes Please and Ashamed are simply classic, Nirvana-esque Muse. The tracks on this half also seem a little more human and relaxed than most of Muse’s work, which is famously decorated with outgoing themes such as the end of the world as we know it and existentialism in the vast nothingness that is the universe. For example, Map of Your Head and Shine Acoustic create a dark yet soothing dreamscape, especially accompanied by rain drops trickling down a window pane on a cold afternoon (which is pretty much what can be heard throughout Shine Acoustic, actually). But it’s a relaxing album in that (again) Radiohead sort of way e.g. Paranoid Android on OK Computer (actually, make that the entirety of OK Computer). There’s still heavy, melancholic meaning to the songs despite the fact that you could set some of these songs as a depressant’s lullaby.
In terms of pure sound, it’s ironically a really up-and-down roller coaster for an album I’d regard as toned-down for the most part, switching between edgy rock songs and soft, empathetic songs quite abruptly. As you’d guess, there really isn’t a solid dynamic (as you’d expect from a collection of B-sides). That seemed to be the case...until the last two tracks, which make for an epic ending. The Gallery, the second to the last song on the album’s studio-recorded first half, might catch you by surprise, not because of the lack of vocals but because it went through, at the time, untouched terrain by Muse: imagery. You can’t help but picture a montage of space exploration whilst listening to this song, the lack of vocals inviting the listener to paint the canvas for themselves. I like to think that the recording of this song lit the spark that would soon develop into Muse’s tendencies to create epic stories and theatrics through their ambitious themes e.g. The Resistance.
Then Hyper Chondriac Music, the finale. It’s a slowed-down version of Hyper Music, a song which was released on Origin. Now, this could possibly be one of the most emotional Muse songs I’ve ever heard (although I’d still put it behind Unintended), just because of the fact that it’s so slow and dreary yet almost overly dramatic and powerful in execution. It pretty much encompasses the songs before it into one awesome send-off package before it transitions to the second half.
The second half is comprised of tracks that have been played live at a concert, which can be watched above. The setlist in that concert featured songs from the entire range of Muse’s discography at the time, but not all of those songs can be found on the album’s second half. A good number of Muse fans have found disfavor with the songs that were chosen, but I’ve developed a liking for it.
It’s mostly composed of B-sides such as Dead Star and In Your World, as well as lesser known Origin tracks such as Screenager and Dark Shines (with a couple of hits from Showbiz). I think this selection of songs helps the album retain the dark atmosphere created by the album’s first half. It also keeps the listening experience fresh, and it helped me see some of the songs (especially the Origin tracks) in a new light (or should I say, new darkness). It showcases a band that can be harsh yet melancholic, as well as an authoritative modern-day act, which opposes what some people have a tendency to think of older Muse as: a contemporary show that picked up where Nirvana and Radiohead left off.
This two-part album leaves you in a state of feeling as if you’ve experienced something brand new. Perhaps the way songs were presented in this album was used as a springboard into what Muse had in store, which we know as Absolution, what some believe to be the band’s magnum opus. But an album that proved (to me, at least) Muse to be a band in their own right should at least be an album in its own right, and I think Hullabaloo Soundtrack went above and beyond that by presenting an engaging new experience with already existing songs. As far as I’m aware, that isn’t something that happens very often.