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CD Review: Muse – Black Holes & Revelations

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Philip Glass? No. Rick Wakeman? No. Wendy Carlos? No. Steve Reich? No!

Thirty seconds into the opening track from Muse's Black Holes & Revelations and all of these thoughts have crossed my mind. The Glass namecheck is most appropriate, as "Take A Bow" uses the repeated and shifted arpeggio as the basic structural material for its slow-building explosion. Just past the midway point the arpeggio flies into double time (very reminiscent of "The Grid" from Philip Glass' Koyaanisqatsi), ushering in the first of several guitar-laden crescendos. Exhilarating. Somehow glammy and sinister at the same time.

When Muse's Absolution hit U.S. ears, the band was (somewhat unfairly) compared to Radiohead. I was guilty of this. Still, given singer Matthew Bellamy's penchant for drawing out syllables over multiple and/or elongated notes, the Thom Yorke similarity was tough to ignore.

This new release moves Muse away from that common ground. For one thing, the lyrics are far less opaque than Radiohead's. The aforementioned "Take A Bow" is fairly obviously an impassioned jab at the failings of world leaders, perhaps one in particular. Hey, if me, Mr. LyricsComeLast, can perceive this…

Musically, Black Holes & Revelations seems comfortable taking on the more arty side of things (the King Crimson brutality of "Assassin") as well as the darkly moody "Voodoo." Squarely in the middle are the popish "Starlight," the glam-draped "Supermassive Black Hole," and the waltz-time "Soldier's Poem"—with beautiful vocal harmonies recalling Queen.

That word comfort is important here, because there's a big difference between the presentation of various musical styles and pulling off a sense of cohesion. Is this a collection or just a bunch of songs?

I was uncertain about this band when Absolution first showed up. That comfort wasn't apparent to my ears. Maybe I'd fallen willing victim to the "Sounds Like Radiohead" noise. Well, no more. Muse has taken a big step forward with Black Holes & Revelations. They stand on their own.

OK. That, and they've successfully pulled off what sounds like the first rock song written by Philip Glass.

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About Mark Saleski

  • Steve Glassfan

    Philip Glass should be a billionaire, if he was paid royalties every time someone copied him!

  • http://www.butterflyfiction.com/journal/ Connie Phillips

    This article has been placed at the Advance.net websites, a site affiliated with about 12 newspapers.

    One such site is here.

  • http://www.knownjohnson.com Tom Johnson

    Mark, did you get the version of Black Holes with the DVD? It’s the entirety of the previously pretty hard to find Absolution Tour DVD (not an edit as I’d thought it was.) Pretty cool – I didn’t realize that all the synthy elements were actually played by the bassist on his bass via MIDI, I assume, pretty impressive because I assumed all that was dubbed in.

    Also check out their second album, Origins of Symmetry, which was released in the US just recently after having been an import for years. It’s much more raw than you might be expecting, and I like it a lot. More variety than Absolution, but not as intense or impressive, either – the two things that both grab me and exhaust me about that album. Still don’t care much for their first, Showbiz – too glossy, way too Radioheady, too.

  • Mark Saleski

    nope, no dvd. i’ll have to check out “Origins..” too . really gettin’ into these guys.

  • Ax

    Listen… that’s not even a review. How can someone write a review if he never listened to Origin of Symethry?!?!?

    The new album “Black holes…” it’s a kick in the dark and I simply hated it.

    “The Origin of Symethry” and “Absolution” are best albums of Muse, and probably have set such high standards, that they will never be capable of setting them to new hights again.

  • http://indemnification.blogspot.com -E

    Congrats! This article has been selected as one of this week’s Editors’ Picks.

  • http://johnpeltier.wordpress.com JP

    I’m with Ax to a point – Absolution and Origin are the band’s artistic peaks. Hoping their new record “The Resistance” this fall returns to that sound.