Muse is one of those bands that I’ve championed ever since their humble beginnings. Of course, signing to Madonna’s Maverick label for an album debut isn’t exactly humble, but their second album didn’t even get released in the States, or their double-live set. It wasn’t until the apocalyptically epic Absolution was released that most started to take any kind of notice, prompting the frustrating sounds of the grinding of my teeth upon hearing teenagers ask, “Have you heard that new band, Muse?” To which I want to answer, “Yes, I have and give me back my time machine!” Absolution was and is completely deserving of the adulation, finding the threesome a long way from the ‘Radiohead knock-off’ tags they were saddled with on Showbiz. But that album was released nearly three years ago in England; slightly less time has passed in the U.S. Can Muse find their way back to the megalithic Promised Land of rock with Black Holes & Revelations? Tune in next paragraph to find out!
The answer is no. Sorry to be anti-climactic, but there’s no getting around it. Muse is still Muse, and hardcore fans will find their beloved band intact and still playing the grandiose arena rock they have become accustomed to over the years, but it’s as if they have taken a step back instead of forward. Opener “Take a Bow” plods along with looping keyboards, like Tangerine Dream doing the soundtrack to Tron. The lyrics are incredibly similar to Radiohead’s last opening track, “2+2=5,” leading Muse right back to the old Radiohead comparisons. “Starlight” is a solid enough track, but essentially retells the old Bowie `Major Tom’ story that’s been done to death at this point. The falsetto of the stomp-rocker “Supermassive Black Hole” seems like an unnecessary throwback to the hair / glam-metal of the ’80s, mixed with the least desirable aspects of prog-rock, or possibly even an arena rock version of a Prince song, either way, the combo doesn’t quite work.
“Map of the Problematique” owes more to Depeche Mode and the Cure than anything they’ve ever done before. In fact, it kind of sounds like the Cure’s cover of DM’s “World in My Eyes.” “Soldier’s Poem” makes a valiant attempt to be political and poignant at the same time with amazingly Queen-like vocal harmonies while presenting a soldier’s point of view during wartime. I was more impressed with the vocals than the lyrics, but then again, that’s how I’ve always felt about most Queen songs. The Bolero-esque march of “Invincible” is one of the more impressive songs on the album, sure to be a big hit in stadiums across the world. Consider it to be Muse’s version of “Heroes.” The metal comes roaring back with “Assassin,” another politically motivated track, finding singer Bellamy somewhat drowning in a sea of flying “V” without a life vest. Muse gets a little inspiration from Mexico, the Middle East and classical piano with “Hoodoo,” one of the few interesting and experimental tracks on the album. This is the Muse I was waiting all through the rest of the album for! It’s too bad they couldn’t have drawn more on this kind of Lynchian-inspired music rather than the metallic mess that preceded it. Unfortunately, however, that’s followed by the over-the-top (and with Muse, that’s really saying something, and I’m a fan!) “Knights of Cydonia.” It sounds like it should be running over the closing credits of a Star Trek vs. Battlestar Galactica cartoon special, and believe me, those Queen-like harmonies in this one just recall the tragedy that was the Flash Gordon soundtrack.
After the success of Absolution, no one is as disappointed as I am in Black Holes & Revelations. For years, I’ve championed Muse to anyone who would listen. Purchasing the imports, playing their music and wondering why the hell they weren’t catching on. But Black Holes just doesn’t feature anything that even remotely compares to “Time is Running Out,” “Butterflies and Hurricanes,” “Thoughts of a Dying Atheist,” or even “Sunburn,” “Muscle Museum,” “Hypermusic” or my personal favorite, “Unintended.” Whereas most Muse albums have four to five great songs to take with you, Black Holes has two fairly decent tracks. For some reason, Muse went whole ‘prog’ on this album, including the Storm Thorgerson (of Hipgnosis) cover. I hate to say it, but maybe Muse should drop the entire political angle and just stick to the Left Behind thing. Now I just feel dirty.
Radiohead – Hail to the Thief
Queens of the Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf
Queen – Flash Gordon Soundtrack