Black Holes and Revelations
et’s just get this out of the way: anyone—ANYONE—who still honestly believes Muse sounds like Radiohead clearly hasn’t listened to nearly as much of either of these artists as they’d dearly like to think they have. As a comparison, it’s reductive, foolish, and boring; worst of all, it’s wrong. Sonically, rhythmically, melodically, harmonically—shit, even lyrically—they share next to nothing in common; the only place you could conceivably argue they meet is in their shared propensity for intensity. But while Radiohead’s force is derived from its manipulating tension, restraint, and emotional authority (aka little Thom Yorke, he of the ability to sing his AIM buddy list and make 17-year-olds weep in their Mazdas), Muse rely instead on their shameless blood-splattering-against-the-wall histrionics. Their songs are louder, harder, faster, bigger, and not necessarily better, but since Origin of Symmetry certainly not mistakable for anything in Radiohead’s catalogue. So let’s end the speculation. I’m talkin’ to all y’all: if it’s too complex then y’all don’t get the basics. Kindly step your games up.
Despite Muse’s admirable efforts to introduce a new dimension to their well-defined though much-maligned sound (i.e. the entrance music for the planet-consuming Unicron) the band’s fourth album, Black Holes and Revelations is, as its title suggests, a little of both.
Now, that’s not to say the album is a disappointment (it isn’t) or not great (it is, mostly), but after hitting their creative and commercial peak with Absolution and its subsequent breakthrough stateside, Black Holes and Revelations clearly reveals itself to be a transition record.
Or, at least, it’s hardly the stripped-down dance-rock record Matt Bellamy and company believe it to be. For one, it’s not exactly stripped-down: their trademark excessive layers of melodrama and arpeggiated progressive progressions remain firmly intact (thankfully). And you can’t really dance to any of it. For all of Muse’s seemingly boundless technical proficiency, grooving hardly seems in their repertoire. And it shouldn’t be.
Case in point: curious first single “Supermassive Black Hole,” with its electro-stomp and processed everything, places Muse as far out of their element as they could possibly hope to be. Muse bring grand (“Take a Bow”), they bring theatric (“Soldier’s Poem”), and they bring loud, excessive, and proggy (“Hoodoo”) sometimes to the point of caricature (“Knights of Cydonia”), but they also do these things really, really well. “Supermassive Black Hole” serves only to highlight their most readily apparent flaw: Muse don’t bring sexy back.
Elsewhere, Muse continue to indulge their growing affinity for major-key, skyscraping, stadium-ready pop on “Starlight,” with its driving bass, simple stacked blocks piano melody and swirling pre-chorus synth line. So too with “Invincible,” powered by a soaring, life-affirming guitar line sure to get backlit cell-phones raised all over the festival pitch. “Map of the Problematique,” with its Depeche Mode-ish pulse, perfectly captures the propulsive car chase soundtrack Muse looks to achieve throughout Black Holes, while the one-two punch of “Assassin” and “Exo-Politics,” manages to encapsulate all their strengths (guns-blazing guitars, bass locked in, Bellamy howling like a banshee), and further fuel it with a pounding dance-ish throb. It’s enough to suggest Muse are heading somewhere; they’re just not quite there yet.
At least they’re looking to expand their sound, take new approaches, and experiment with different styles outside of their home genre while still retaining the essence of what they represent aesthetically. And, really, what other band has the balls to do that?
Reviewed by: Barry Schwartz
Reviewed on: 2006-07-14