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MUSE – Black Holes And Revelations

Posted: August 31st, 2006, by Andrew Bryers

Not so much a review this, as an admission of befuddlement. Also maybe a little mainstream for Diskant, but if Alasdair can get away with gushing all over Rachel Stevens (so to speak) then I’m sure I can discuss Muse with impunity.I have been living, somewhat uncomfortably, with Black Holes and Revelations for more than a month now. I bought it reluctantly, deterred by the overt prog-ness of both title and cover artwork, and by an instant dislike of the first single Supermassive Black Hole. I concluded that Muse, who had always dallied perilously close to their own anus had finally taken up permanent residence therein.

But see it gaze at me every time I went into Fopp, i began to soften. I mean, I love Muse. I love them for their weirdness, their willfully absurdity, their refusal to embrace indie cool, punk-ethic lo-fi or any other restriction on their BIG GRAND (daft) ideas. Of course they’re silly, but in these days when a Simon Amstell haircut and some big soulful eyes do an indie band make, don’t we need Matt Bellamy’s demented stare more than ever?

So anyway, the album. I’d read that they’d given up any pretence of being able to play the songs live and was half expecting over-produced mush, so opener “Take a Bow” – a pointless three minutes of of loops, arpeggios and grand build-up to nothing – came as no surprise. Elsewhere we hear new influences – Morricone movie scores and Arabic-sounding strings – creeping in alongside such such classic Muse album tracks as the big neo-romantic piano melodrama wank-off (here, Hoodoo). Results are mixed: Hoodoo’s a hoot, while their take on barbershop easy listening (Soldier’s Poem) falls a bit flat. Starlight’s a pretty tune marred by a shockingly banal chorus. It’s a mark of how much conviction they play with that, on repeated listening, Supermassive Black Hole for all its Darkness-esque “ooh baby” falsetto vocals and cheesiest use of vocoder since S Club Seven’s “Don’t Stop Moving” almost begins to work. Back at Rachel Stevens. How did that happen?

Maybe they’re best when they just all-out rock, as they do very effectively on “Assassin” and “Exo-Politics”. But then, just as you’re opting for the “great rock band ruined by over-production” version of events (let’s call it the Smashing Pumpkins theory), you hear Knights of Cydonia without doubt the most ridiculously over-the-top and best track on the album. Like Pink Floyd in a spaghetti western with a riff outta hell and Queen-style three-part vocal harmonies (and I hate Queen), it embodies everything you’ve got to love about Muse, the sheer shouldn’t-work-but-does-ness of them. It’s cool the way space is cool when you’re a kid.

So what’s going on? Are Muse too preposterous or not preposterous enough? Hmm, might have to get back to you on that one…

Andrew Bryers

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