Muse - Black Holes and Revelations
I'll be honest from the outset. I've been a huge Muse fan ever since the Radiohead-stylings of their debut, “Showbiz”, through to their prog/pomp rock mesh of the cautiously received "Absolution". Having had the opportunity to catch them live at the V Festival a couple of years back I can vouch for their impressive performances and ability to transfer their sound onto the live arena seamlessly.
After the relative calm that was "Absolution", Muse have returned seemingly with a renewed vigour and venom; there's hardly any time to take a breather and yet they've developed their sound further again. The current single "Supermassive Black Hole" hints at this new angle; it's almost funky - the compressed drum sound giving the song an impressive impact and yet, in places, it's still unmistakably Muse. They've have never been ashamed of the pompousness of their records - they've practically embraced it - but they're just nicely reined in here - nothing too over the top, everything exceedingly well produced and put together. From the opening synth intro to "Take A Bow" to the almost Spanish guitars echoing in "City Of Delusion" before it's descent into eastern strings and fuzzed up chords with Bellamy's powerful vocals soaring through the verses, everything is in its right place.
The highlights are too numerous to mention, but for me the standout tracks are "Starlight", "Map Of The Problematique" and "Assassin". These have distilled all that’s good about Muse and focused them into perfect songs. The record seems to be full of contrasts; the darkly fuzzed bass intro to "Starlight" balanced by the light synth-strings staccato over the top, this is as close to a ballad as anything they've made, hooked around the line "Hold you in my arms, I just wanted to hold you in my arms" and yet the refrain descends into typical thrash-Muse territory before calming down before leading into the chorus.
"Map Of The Problematique" is like if New Order had listened to more metal records. Peter Hook will be pissed that Muse have beaten him to this bass line, with keyboards infringing on it's thump and Bellamy's vocals wailing over the top. This is a perfect example of how they've returned to their more aggressive nature this time around; the guitars crashing around the rhythm section as it soars to it's epic conclusion. "Assassin" is the cruel, dark and pure aggressive side of Muse given form. Thundering drumming and a guitar riff that has ADHD as it thrashes around seemingly on its own course through the song. Epic rock at it's very best.
The only track for me that doesn't work is "Soldiers Poem" - an attempt at an anti-war song, the lyrics work but the pace is so far below everything on the album that is jars slightly and spoils the flow of it. Sure if you're not a Muse fan you'll struggle beyond the mind-boggling song titles and Bellamy's sometimes astral lyrics, but there isn't a band in Britain, and maybe even the World, at the moment who sound anything like Muse. They're unique, they're special and they've come for your mind. Don't fight it, just let them have it - what are you going to do with anyway?