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Album Review: Black Holes and Revelations (Muse)

April 20, 2010

After listening to “The Resistance”, Muse’s latest album, I ventured back in time to listen to their earlier work.  So, after listening to “Black Holes and Revelations”, I think that it’s imperative that I review it.

1. Take A Bow

This track, to me, epitomizes a sort-of 60’s throwback trance-ish kind of feel.  The last part of the song reminds me of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” by The Beatles – it’s a droning, overpowering (sometimes tiring) song that puts the listener in a fix for the rest of the album.  Although it’s not the most optimistic song on the album (“You’ll burn in hell for your sins”. I know), it’s exactly what you’d expect from Muse – dramatic, theatrical, fusing two genres together (trancy euro-pop in the beginning, and then blending in a heavy, rock ballad-like theme in the end).  However, I do think that the song would be much better suited in the end of the album – even if the message it has is an angry, rather pessimistic one, the title, at least, makes it more suitable for closing the album off (C+)

2. Starlight

Now, this is one of my all-time favourite Muse songs.  I know that some people RIP this song apart because they make fallacious allegations that it indicates the “selling out” of the band and how commercial they’ve become, but I just don’t see it.  It sounds like Muse. It has a catchy verse. A not-so-catchy chorus.  And it has the title of the album in the chorus (“Our hopes and expectations, black holes and revelations”).  What’s so commercial about it?  I agree that it’s radio-friendly, but I don’t see the selling-out component of the song.  To me, this song just reads out passion.  Bellamy’s obviously had an incredible moment of introspection while writing this song and it’s translated in the recording.  The abundance of “structure” in the song makes it easy to listen to, but it doesn’t detract away from the message he’s trying to communicate.  To me at least, this is one of the highlights of the album because of its mere simplicity.  It just makes me smile every time I listen to it.  Isn’t that what counts? (A-)  

3. Supermassive Black Hole

This song, as most people know, was featured in a short scene in Twilight.  I can definitely vouch for all you critics out there and say that I strongly dislike the Twilight franchise and have never been a fan, but the one thing to understand before criticizing Muse is that they wrote this song for the ALBUM, not the MOVIE.  As a stand-along song in the album, it shows a lot of diversity.  Which contemporary band can go from sounding like Radiohead to coming off as R&B-ish? It takes some guts to make a song that diverse within an album for a band that has an established alternative hard-rock presence within the minds of all of its fans.  For that reason alone, I like the song.  I can say that I’m not a big fan of the chorus of the song, as it comes off to me as a cop-out.  Supermassive is a powerful, sexy, beat-filled song that communicates a really lusty kind of message.  For that reason alone, the chorus doesn’t seem appropriate – however, the best thing about the song is the Zeppelin/Hendrix-influenced riff that Bellamy plays throughout the song.  It’s sounds like a metrosexual Jimmy Page. No lie. (B-)  

4. Map of the Problematique

To me, one of the defining moments of the entire album.  The subtle piano at the beginning sets the tone for the rest of the song (see, it’s the little things like the piano that make Muse incredible).  To me, whenever I listen to this song, I just think of a desert with a tsunami heading towards the band which is centered right in the middle of everything.  Picturesque, I know.  Bellamy goes the extra mile with his vocals here. He’s established himself as an extremely strong singer, in addition to his stellar guitar playing.  I don’t have any major criticism with this song, other than the fact that I would’ve loved to hear a guitar solo thrown in there.  The vocals don’t dominate as much (which, in my opinion, is a good thing, since in most Muse songs, Matt takes center stage with his voice).  I mean – when you hear him belting out “When we bleed, we bleed the same”, it’s hard not to get a little introspective and nostalgic. (A)

5.  Soldier’s Poem

Interesting placement.  Right after an intense and insightful song like MOTP, they choose to tune things down and play a really straightforward (at least on the face-level) song that sounds a tad like a Barbershop Quartet.   I get flashbacks of “Unintended” every time I hear this song, but it’s still a great one that provides relief between the intensity of the rest of the album. (B-)

6. Invincible

This entire song, to me, is a great big crescendo.  The beginning translates Matt’s vulnerability to me – “During this struggle, they will pull us down…but please, let’s use this chance to turn things around”.  It’s a corny start to the song, but it morphs into classic Muse – a riff-embroiled, guitar tapping amalgamation that just explodes at the end.  The end of this song is a perfect expression of how Muse songs manage to turn a simple idea into a monstrous, theatrical drama – which is what I love most about them. (B-)  

7. Assassin

Great riff.  Evidently shows the Metal-side of the band.  Dom’s drumming work is truly impressive – every component/instrument stands out on its own and works very well.  By this point, the band’s established a clear “theme” of the album – it all seems like tossing a ball around.  At one point, with Starlight, there’s a clear message of searching for your soulmate being communicated.  With Assassin, the band’s making a clear political statement.  I think the theme of this album is the lack of a theme.  There are just a lot of deep feelings being thrown around, and these sentiments eventually get built up into representing the band in a more positive, professional way.  This song gave me the first indication of the “theme” of the song.  It’s short, sweet, and to the point. (C+)

8. Exo-Politics

My favourite on the album.  I don’t know what I like about it, but it just makes sense to me.  The beginning’s a class act – I showed my buddy the opening riff and he immediately fell in love with it.  It’s the classic Muse chord structure which has the drama attached to it.  As the song progresses and it goes to the second “verse” (“When the Zetas fill the skies…”), I wake up and start to pay attention – it’s something about that part of the song that just makes me listen closely.  The solo that follows the second verse is just amazing – it reminds me of a Zeppelin + bad 80’s music fusion that you just can’t beat.  Overall, great song, sick beat, mind blowing riff. (A)

9. City of Delusion

To me, Muse backtracks here.  After Exo-Politics, I want to hear some progression, but “City of Delusion” is just too indulgent for me to fully appreciate.  On it’s own, it’s a good song – solid bass line, good vocals, clever use of the strings throughout the song.  However, in the grand scheme of the album itself, it fails a bit.  I will say that it sounds a lot like a song you’d hear before or after a Soccer game in Europe – the bass line has that kind of feel to it. (C)

10.  Hoodoo

Surprisingly, this is one of my favourites from the album.  The reason? It seems like the precursor to Muse’s work in “The Resistance”, their next album that they released last year.  I love to hear a band’s evolution to their latest album.  “I’ve had recurring nightmares…missed the opportunity to be a better man,” just puts the cherry on top of this song – as I said before with the “theme” of any album, that line made me understand what the band was trying to communicate to its audience – that the album was a strong EMOTION, regardless of what KIND of emotion you personally felt, the album communicated a STRONG sentiment which made it the listener’s responsibility to determine what they actually experienced. (B-)

11.  Knights of Cydonia

This has got to be in my top 5 all time favourite Muse songs.  Same with my dad.  We loved watching their performances of this song because of the extra stuff that Matt would add to it – like the really high falsetto in the intro.  Although the recording of this song could be better – in terms of bringing out the drums a whole lot more – I find it a genius song to write/record/perform.  From the minute intricacies like the drum fills by Dom all the way to the changes in time signature that the song takes us through, it’s a wild ride and honestly reminds me of an epic cowboy space odyssey (which was what Bellamy was going for).  I will say that the song would be much better off in the beginning of the album – it seems like the perform song to start off any gig.  Nonetheless, this is the focal point of the album for me. (A)

So, to sum up, these are the high points of the album:

1. Exo-Politics

2. Knights of Cydonia

3. Starlight

4. Map of the Problematique

Final Grade:  B

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