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Muse – Black Holes and Revelations

Our man in the know, Stephen, gives us his take on Muse’s latest offering, Black Holes and Revelations…

Published on August 15th 2006.

Muse – Black Holes and Revelations

Valiantly providing the general public with girly falsettos and guitar kickassery for almost a decade now, Muse’s augmentation from makeup-caked ‘Gothic Plague’ to one of Britain’s most flamboyant and original acts has been an interesting one.

Having been picked up by Madonna’s Maverick label early on in their career, Muse’s first album, Showbiz, was beleaguered with comparison’s to The Bends-era Radiohead (producer John Leckie was present on both albums). But where Radiohead’s biography reads; ‘Raised in Oxford, met at Uni, originally written-off, made it big, argued a bit, became ambient’, Muse’s bio reads: ‘Devon band, became Goths, written-off, turned to gloriously overblown space-rock piggery, became huge, broke bones, burst lips, predicted the Gulf War using a Ouija Board...’

It was Muse’s third album, 2003’s Absolution, which cemented them as one of Rock’s most remarkable forces, with their own multifarious midget Matt Bellamy dusting off a dying Brit-rock, stuffing meaty riffs into its pockets and electronics up its butt, before firing it off into outer space. Interestingly, despite Muse’s penchant for Sci-Fi and operatics, their aesthetic remains ultimately earth-bound.

In 2000, the millennial turn and the political climate had inspired Radiohead to trade in their guitars for gloomy ambience and garbled nursery rhyme lyrics. Muse, however, took the fight to the fore with Absolution, and now again with Black Holes and Revelations. Opening track Take A Bow, a pejorative portrait of our world leaders, is a synth-led hate piece, Matt Bellamy sneers: “You’ll pay for your crimes against the earth… you’ll burn in hell.” With his digitalised vocals, he sounds like a vengeful cyber-god… or Robocop.

Supermassive Black Hole, the lead single from Black Holes and Revelations, is a signal of how far Muse’s apple has fallen from the Radiohead tree. It’s also the dirtiest, filthiest, funkiest thing they’ve produced thus far. Supermassive Black Hole has more in common with Goldfrapp than it does Black Sabbath, and was apparently inspired by the dilapidated electroclash discothèques frequented by the band during their recording in New York.

This discothèque influenza seems to have a taken hold, as there only a few tracks not complimented by simple, affecting Robert Miles-styled keyboard hooks. Map of the Problematiqué, an album highlight, takes its melancholic soarings and transforms them into a punk rock Pet Shop Boys… which actually turns out to be a good thing.

A problem that intermittently mires Muse is their occasional lapse into overwrought balladeering. It swamped parts of Absolution to an insipid crawl, and it does so again here. The smoky jazz of Soldier’s Poem stumbles slightly, and the marching drums and cheery disposition of Invincible make it a little too difficult to swallow. Yet latterly with Hoodoo, Muse hit the ghostly ballad nail square on its bonce; starting with a hushed Jeff Buckley guitar croon and ending in something from a David Cronenberg film.

Despite one or two shaky moments, there are inspired turns for the duration; Assassin sounds like System of a Down playing the Knight Rider theme, Exo-Politics has the line: “When the Zetas hit the skies, its just our leaders in disguise”, City of Delusion is awash with Spanish guitars and Indian strings, and then there’s album closer Knights of Cydonia.

To say that Knights of Cydonia starts with the sound of galloping horses, laser beams and air raid sirens may give a hint to its inclination. Matt Bellamy appears as a Cydonian space-cowboy, singing: “I’ll show you a god that sleeps on the job, a place where fools can be kings.” It could be Iron Maiden, except not shit.

As we are constantly reminded through newspapers and special television bulletins, the world is in trouble. And it seems disappointing that Muse are only one of a few bands really concerned with it all. Still, it’s festival season and Muse are the kings. One of the few bands who genuinely improve with the number of people stood before them. And despite drummer Dominic Howard losing his father shortly after headlining Glastonbury in 2004, Black Holes and Absolution provides all new cyber-disco avenues to turn.

Stephen Fairbanks

Black Holes and Revelations
Label: Wea
Year: 2006
Tracks: 11

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