Take a Bow

Given that it took four months of listening before I reviewed their second album, I figured I should wait at least a week before reviewing Muse’s fourth, Black Holes and Revelations. Given also the rave nature of that review and my one for Absolution, I wondered whether I should bow to the inevitable and post this one in all-caps. OH MY GOD, IT’S AWESOME AND YOU SHOULD ALL BUY IT...

Perhaps not. The difficulty is that there’s nowhere left to go after all-caps, yet this album feels like there’s something left in the tank—a tank they thoroughly emptied during Absolution, their drag round the racecourse of rock in a turbo-charged Hummer. So am I saying this isn’t the equal of Absolution? I suppose I am, but only because that was such an incredible album; it only stayed off my top spot for the year because that was when I discovered Lemon Jelly’s Lost Horizons. If only I’d heard LJ’s when it came out, I’d have had 2001 Muse, 2002 Lemon Jelly, 2003 Muse, and all would be right with the world.

But anyway, Black Holes. It starts every bit as strongly as its predecessor, with the swirling keyboards of “Take a Bow”, then segues into one of their most immediate and undeniable melodies, “Starlight”, which stomps all over Keane in the anthemic piano singalong stakes. Then there’s the dancefloor-friendly “Supermassive Black Hole”, with its echoes of Bono’s falsetto à la “Lemon” and that menacing whispering of the title over and over at the end. Finally, “Map of the Problematique”, with Cure-like guitar noises and wall of keyboards and drums, is another instant Muse classic.

But not long afterwards it goes off the rails a bit, and I can’t quite pinpoint why. The more I listen to the album, the more I like each song of its second half individually—particularly “City of Delusion”—but as components of an album they still don’t gel for me. Perhaps they will; perhaps this, like Origin of Symmetry, needs four months of exposure to reach the stratosphere.

Because the stratosphere is where Black Holes and Revelations is squarely aimed: the lyrics are full of science fiction references, and the soundscape is more experimental and electronic than ever before, while remaining full of reassuringly heavy guitars and Bellamy’s banshee wailing. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the closing track, “Knights of Cydonia”, which opens with laser beams and horses before galloping into a ’60s surf-rock riff, like the soundtrack to the best space opera that Quentin Tarantino never made. It’s a killer ending to an album with a killer opening, and a middle that can’t really be called filler and is growing on me more each day, so I guess I will have to scream it in all-caps: WHEN THE HISTORY OF ’00s ROCK IS WRITTEN, MUSE WILL BE ON THE FRONT COVER. Reviewers have worn out the Queen comparison, so here’s another: Muse are this decade’s Led Zeppelin. Every album is great, and this one is no exception.

13 July 2006 · Music

Learn more about E-Learning, Politics and Society with Edinburgh University’s online MSc in E-Learning.

←Book Off MangaIn My Ears and In My Eyes→