If you were putting together a shortlist of the world’s top rock bassists in terms of playing ability and all-round technical prowess, Chris Wolstenholme would likely be one of the first names on the list. His trademark fuzz-bass and manic riffing, alongside guitarist Matt Bellamy, have become part of the language of modern-day bass playing.
“The way that Matt and I try to play, it’s more from a harmony point of view, like a string section would play together, where it’s not just a bass plugging away with root notes the whole time,” Chris told BP back in 2020. “It’s given me the opportunity to try loads of effects and distortions, and to try to create something that sounds new on the bass.”
After almost 30 years, 9 studio albums and sales in excess of 17 million records, Chris continues to take the bass world by storm. "The dude comes up with lines that feel like a foundation,” says Trivium bassist, Paolo Gregoletto. “It allows the vocals and the instrumentation to really work. He’s mind-blowing.”
In homage to Wolstenholme’s unique bass talents, here's our pick of the 10 best basslines from Muse.
1. Cave (Showbiz, 1999)
This track from the band’s debut album established Muse as a serious contender in the rock world. The bass line not only anchors the band, but sets a new standard for sonic creativity. “Showbiz was good for what we were trying to achieve at the time," says Chris. "But for a long time I couldn’t really listen to that album because it felt like the band had moved on. Now I can appreciate it – I can almost listen to it like it’s a different band.”
2. Hyper Music (Origin Of Symmetry, 2001)
This is Muse at their cataclysmic best: big, overblown and rafters shaking in its sound with a multi-layered array of distorted bass tones. “This felt like our first proper record," he says. "Showbiz was a compilation of songs we’d written before we got signed, but this was the first time we’d actually gone to a studio to make an album. It’s when we became recognizable as what we are now.”
3. New Born (Origin Of Symmetry, 2001)
The intro to New Born sees Chris call upon some deftly deployed arpeggios. Look out for a killer stretch on the B7/D# chord. If you’re familiar with Wolstenholme’s signature sounds then you’ll have plenty to process as he raises the bar on both heaviness and intensity throughout. Mix in some heavy fuzz and a power stance for maximum rock!
4. Hysteria (Absolution, 2003)
The third single from Absolution, Hysteria is built around an overdriven, all-16th note bass line that forms the heart of the entire song. It’s a great example of how adding chromatic approach notes to scale tones can create a signature riff. Plenty of hammer ons and a fat distorted sound is a must. "Absolution was more of a continuation of Origin. We knew what we wanted to do, and we’d found our feet a little bit, and we felt comfortable with what we did.”
5. Time Is Running Out (Absolution, 2003)
The centrepiece bass riff on Time Is Running Out has burgeoning rock hero potential. Listen closely to how the open, synth-driven groove adds breathing space to the verse. “We tried for ages to get the right bass sound. We tried flangers and dubbing with phasers, but it still wasn’t happening. One day Matt was fooling around with a JP 8000 synth that we put that down with a subby bassline, which made a weird, disgusting kind of noise. That’s what we used.”
6. Starlight (Black Holes And Revelations, 2006)
Starlight is an uncharacteristically straightforward piano-led love song, albeit one that’s driven by a fuzz bassline played over an almost power-pop groove. It marked the point when Muse were beginning to give in to their glam-rock influences. “That was probably the first time where we felt comfortable in the studio, and it gave us the opportunity to experiment with synths and things like that. Up until that point, it was easy to ask a producer to do something for you. With Black Holes we made an effort to get into the science behind everything.”
7. Uprising (The Resistance, 2006)
The opening track from 2009’s The Resistance kicks out a dark Doctor-Who-meets-Blondie-style vibe. As ever, Chris Wolstenhome’s inventive bass part plays a key harmonic and rhythmic role. “With a lot of basslines in the past we would combine distorted bass with synths, but we made a conscious decision that the rhythm section had to be real. We wanted to come up with a bass sound that almost sounded like a synth, without using synthesizers.”
8. Panic Station (The 2nd Law, 2012)
As Muse commenced the recording of their sixth studio album, The 2nd Law, Matt Bellamy teased fans by declaring that the trio were intent upon making a “Christian gangsta rap jazz odyssey, some ambient rebellious dubstep and face-melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia.” Made by Chris Wolstenholme’s impeccable slap bass technique, Panic Station borrows from Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust and was as ambitious as anything Muse had ever recorded.
9. The Handler (Drones, 2015)
Introduced by another seismic guitar riff and utilising Matt Bellamy’s iconic sustained falsetto, The Handler carries the solid rock heft of the band’s Origin of Symmetry era. It also features some technically amazing bass work from Chris Wolstenholme, backing up Bellamy’s guitar work with a neat counter melody riff.
10. Won’t Stand Down (Will Of The People, 2022)
The band’s ninth album, Will of the People, once again reignited the spirit and energy of Muse’s former incarnations. With a dangerously catchy guitar/vocal hook, this politically charged anthem is just as captivating as it is thought provoking. Like most of Muse’s work, Chris takes everything up to 11, and that’s what we love about him. You can’t hear it and not be sucked in by the bassline.