Black Holes and Revelations Label: Warner Bros
There’s a strange thing going on in modern rock: it’s starting to sound more and more like classic rock. That Flaming Lips song “The W.A.N.D.” is the best Joe Walsh song in 25 years, and Jack White does a better Robert Plant impression than the lead singers of Whitesnake, Kingdom Come and Bonham combined (check out the title track of the Raconteurs’ Broken Boy Soldiers for evidence). And then there’s Muse, the Devon trio that has been described as “…(having) the emotional intensity and style of Radiohead, a rock thunder descended from Black Sabbath, and the baroque drama of Queen” (Allmusic.com), “a cross between Radiohead and Queen” (Richard Butler), and “an unlikely mix of the melodramatic grandeur of Queen – or perhaps Queensryche – and the paranoid cynicism of Radiohead.” That last quote was mine, actually, from my review of their 2004 album Absolution.
All of those influences are still apparent in the band’s sound, but on their newest, Black Holes and Revelations, Muse pushes their boundaries like never before. Indeed, the band will see your Radiohead and Queen and raise you…Cameo and Keane. No joke. I’d be grossly overstepping my bounds by declaring Black Holes and Revelations to be the modern rock equivalent of A Night at the Opera, but surely there is some big, dramatic, over-the-top album out there to which it merits comparison, right? Maybe Hysteria? Use Your Illusion? You get the picture either way; this album is big. Big, hard, funky, and crazy, crazy good.
Leadoff track “Take a Bow,” which sports more key changes than Guns ‘n Roses’ “Coma” (speaking of Use Your Illusion), is a scathing indictment of either Tony Blair or George W. Bush, or possibly both. “You bring death and destruction to all that you touch / Pay, you must pay / You must pay for your crimes against the earth,” Bellamy moans while executing octave-jumping keyboard runs at twice the speed of his work on Absolution’s “Apocalypse Please.” When bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard kick in, the song explodes with a pitch-black fury that wouldn’t sound out of place on The Wall. Bellamy continues the war-is-hell theme on “A Soldier’s Poem,” a tender, “Everybody Hurts”-style ballad where the “soldier” asks his leader, “…do you think you deserve your freedom / No, I don’t think you do / There’s no justice in the world / And there never was.” And, to paraphrase Al Pacino, Bellamy’s just getting warmed up.
Even “Supermassive Black Hole” is a warning about the abuse of the environment, not that you’ll notice anything other than that über-funky “Word Up” beat the first 20 times you hear it. Sung in a Prince-style falsetto, Bellamy and the boys actually sound like they’re having fun, and it’s a welcome change of pace. (Attention, Warner Bros.: if you’re looking for someone to give the song the proper rock remix it deserves, I’m your man.) “Supermassive” looks to be the band’s next single, though there are about four or five other songs that could claim the same. “Exo-Politics” has one of those massive choruses a la “Time Is Running Out,” and “City of Delusion” is an Eastern-tinged “Butterflies and Hurricanes” (“Alone Again Or”-type trumpet solo in the middle and everything), with Bellamy positively singing for his life in the chorus.
Lastly, but most certainly not least, there’s “Knights of Cydonia,” the album’s six minute-plus first single that puts spaghetti western guitar to a chugging train beat, both of which give way at the three-minute mark to an umpteen-part harmony vocal break followed by a thunderous finale. Sound like any Queen songs you may have heard? That’s right, this is Muse’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” both literally and figuratively, and just try not to bang your head like the guys in “Wayne’s World” when the guitar riff hits. “Cydonia” is up there with Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” for Single of the Year in Medskerland.
If anything weighs down the album, it’s the songwriting patterns that are revealing themselves (“Delusion” and ”Butterflies,” the ultra-heavy “Assassin” is the doppelganger of “Stockholm Syndrome”), not to mention their outright theft of Keane’s “Everybody’s Changing” for their song “Invincible” (complete with masturbatory guitar noodling that would give Yngwie Malmsteen pause). But in fairness to Muse, you can make that case about the sameness of the songwriting against the Smiths, Ramones, New Order, Green Day, and scores of other great bands. Muse, like everyone else, has a thing that they do, and on Black Holes and Revelations, they do it bigger and better than ever before.