Now is the time to talk about one of my favorite albums! The time is nigh, so strap yourself in and prepare for an inability to move around as freely because you’re strapped in, it’s:
Ok, so let’s imagine you’re one of the world’s top rock bands, and you’ve just won international acclaim and a boat-load of success in America. What do you do now? Well, while you would think that most truly successful acts would take this opportunity to completely revamp their sound… oh wait yeah that’s what Muse did.
Whether shocking or predictable, the fact is that Muse took this, their newest studio album, in a brand new direction versus their previous albums, which despite a shaky, inconsistent debut album, have been really great. In a way, Black Holes & Revelations is my favorite Muse album to date, which I realize I might have already said before, but this time I really mean it! There are no albums left until they come out with a new one!
Well, it might just be that I actually love all of their albums but in different ways. I have described this particular album as their “pop” album before, mostly because I was hoping to stir up some dissent, but what I really meant was this is their variety album. Not to be tied to sticky genres like “rock”, “metal”, “mineral”, or “limestone”, this album explores many different venues by which our manly and rugged trio of songsters may go in and kick all kinds of ass.
Firstly, we get something that, though a little more synthesizery than usual, is most likened to a Muse song. Yeah, there aren’t a lot of surprises with “Take A Bow”. That doesn’t mean it’s not a great song, no way, if you don’t like U.S. Presidents (and remember who was President when this song came out? Neither do I!), this has got to be your anthem. The song is like one big crescendo, building up layers of arpeggios from the synths, those crazy huge-sounding drums and distorted bass, and of course Matthew Bellamy’s epic vocals that really tug at those political-dissent muscles. I vividly remember laughing aloud at the final note of the song, because it really out-does itself for insane endings.
Funnily enough, the song barely even ends before the fog-horn sounding distorted bass pounds along with the drums for the first part of “Starlight”. The song itself, while containing all the instruments and personnel of a Muse song, is actually altogether quite different. For one, it’s one of the very few major key rock songs that contains practically no deviations from that key that aren’t sugary sweet (the last example of this I can clearly remember would be all the way back in Origin Of Symmetry but even then, “Plug In Baby” wasn’t as “sweet” of a song as “Starlight”). The song is also a love song, what’s that all about? Either way, except for the fact that I really love singing along with this song, it’s either an obvious “pop radio” song (which has achieved success in exactly that venue) or I’m missing something.
I’ve always said that Muse could and should provide the sound track to history’s most awesome horror film, so it came as no surprise to me that what happened in reality is that “Supermassive Black Hole” became one of the main songs on the soundtrack to Gay Vampires Jamboree, the film. Nonetheless, it’s a sexy, sexy song, with Bellamy channeling more Prince than peril, and despite all the instruments sounding very artificial, are actually replicated live in a very caring way. Still, in my mind, it’s now a song about gay vampires so I am going to have to recover from that somewhat.
Speaking of artificial, there’s hardly a trace of that genuine Muse crunchiness present in the ever-so-polished “Map Of The Problematique”. Despite this, they play it live and it sounds incredible, so now I’m left wondering what’s real and what’s not?
To make things even more confusing, the next song is acoustic. Besides non-album off-shoots, I can only think of one purely acoustic song that Muse did, and that’s “Unintended”, so we’re going all the way back to Showbiz for inspiration. The song is really good and follows along that same “we hate Western politics” attitude, only this time from the voice of a soldier who apparently didn’t realize there’d be fighting involved when he signed up for This Man’s Army.
Next, however, we have one of the absolute finest songs on the album, “Invincible”. Part motivational yet non-religious Hymn, part wicked cool rock song, this song really gets the inspiration goes, whether by its humble beginnings as an organ and cadence number, to its thick guitar chords bombastic second chorus, or by what I would consider the best Muse guitar solo yet, featuring simultaneous finger-tapping and hammer-ons on a guitar with a Korg Kaoss pad built in. Really, pretty much all the stops were pulled to assure the listener that this song will make your life better.
Finally, finally, we’re treated to what could closely be considered a traditional Muse song. The song is called “Assassin” and just about the only thing missing from it (and the whole album) is the bassist’s usual front-and-center bass-lines and effects. Oh well, bass is always the first thing to go when you go “pop”.
“Exo-Politics” is the first song I’m not particularly crazy about in this album, and that always seems to happen toward the ends of these albums. The song is fine, of course, especially the chorus, which is about as conspiracy-happy as you can get.
“City Of Delusion” brings in more acoustic guitar as one of the many instruments to rock out behind this sequel to the conspiracy-laden previous song. Though this song has, like “Starlight”, some awesome protracted tenor-notes sung by the powerful voice of Matthew Bellamy, I notice that he has opted against hitting the screechy alto/soprano notes present in previous albums. I can understand this, if there’s anything we’ve learned from Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, it’s to not wreck your voice with too many high notes (they even play “Starlight” tuned down half a step, I presume to save Bellamy’s voice from the strain of all those higher notes).
“Hoodoo” is kind of a weird one. It starts off with a guitar/vocal only bit, seemingly inspired by Mariachi music (perhaps the kind you might hear in a spaghetti western, though THAT song is yet to come), but then the piano comes in and rips off Tchaikovsky in that way that only Bellamy dares to, and then it goes back to guitar. The end!
Oh right, I almost forgot, there’s still one more song to go.
Indeed if there’s one thing us expert critics can say about Muse, it’s that their entire existence has been leading up to writing the greatest futuristic western-style rock song ever created, thus “Knights Of Cydonia” came as no surprise to anyone. It’s like it was written in the stars! Who could have guessed that the song would not only be entertaining, but epic in length (but still at the radio-allowable just-around-6-minutes mark), drenched in musical quality (so many chord changes!), lyrically profound yet so simple in idea that it evokes an almost primitive instinct within the listener, and finally ending not only with meticulous 3-part harmony belting out the very definition of resistance to an oppressive force, but also the greatest guitar-riff rock-out in this entire decade of music thus far to close the whole thing out?
The answer: everyone. Like you didn’t already know!
So there you have it, an album of depth, superficiality, pop hits, rock hits, and ending with one of the greatest rock songs (and videos) ever made, even my Dad liked it! That’s Black Holes & Revelations, and I can’t wait to see what this little trio from the England that Could will come up with next, the little scamps.