Muse’s third album Absolution is proof positive of the existence of
parallel universes, of a world drastically different from ours courtesy of one
seemingly minute decision going another way. The protagonist in Run Lola Run
saw her outcome change based on slowing down or speeding up just a step;
likewise, the lives of the people with whom she intersected had much different
outcomes as a result of that brief encounter as well. Using this principle,
Absolution is the album that Radiohead would have made after OK Computer,
if only someone had gotten to Thom Yorke before the robots did.
Equal parts 1970s art rock and vintage 1990s Brit rock, Absolution is an
unlikely mix of the melodramatic grandeur of Queen – or perhaps Queensryche –
and the paranoid cynicism of Radiohead. Singer/guitarist/keyboardist Matthew
Bellamy can do a pitch perfect Yorke impression if he feels like it, but he
seems fonder of Jeff Buckley, and wastes no time showing it on “Apocalypse
Please,” an impossible blend of thundering piano, Brit pop harmonies, and
Yes-like keyboard runs. When Bellamy bellows, “This is the end/This is the end
of the world,” it’s easy to believe him.
It’s clear early on that Muse aren’t music snobs; if they think it’s cool, it’s
in here. In fact, if there’s any drawback to Absolution, it’s perhaps an
overwhelming number of ideas and directions per track, though it’s rarely
actually a drawback. This more-is-more approach comes to fruition on the
magnificent “Butterflies and Hurricanes,” which starts as a lullaby, whips up a
small storm, breaks for a classical piano interlude, then unfurls an explosive
finale, all the while carrying three- and four-part harmonies and Dominic
Howard’s ferocious drumming.
In fact, it’s the drumming that separates Muse from their Brit rock peers.
Howard plays not only like he’s trying to put holes in his drums but possibly
with the intent of digging to China. The playing is aggressive but precise, a
refreshing change of pace from the fast but sloppy drummers of the day (ahem,
Danny Goffey of Supergrass). Witness “Stockholm Syndrome,” blessed with a
paralyzing guitar riff (the ending would even make Metallica run for cover) but
driven by Howard’s fluid, furious drumming. Likewise, the beat behind “Hysteria”
(not a Def Leppard cover) sounds like Daft Punk on a real drum kit, the kick
drum going four on the floor throughout.
It seems odd that Muse, who arrived at the Brit Pop party way late and without
an ID (the band members are all shockingly young), would be the band to steer
British rock back on course. But Absolution does just that. It’s bleak
but in a strangely life-affirming way. Apocalypse please, indeed.