Muse is the band that everybody loves to hate. Whether they’re too similar to Radiohead, too similar to Coldplay, too similar to [insert artrock band here]; whether Matt Bellamy’s voice is like a hot knife in the eardrum or the constant bombardment of out-of-place techno sound or the love of amplified distortion; whether the trite lyrics or the worse song titles, there’s a lot one can dislike, but it’s testament to Muse’s ability (it’s there, somewhere) that they still manage to make listenable records in spite of all.
For the record1, I really like Absolution, or at least I liked a lot of songs from it. The opener, with its foot stomping and crashing piano (which sounded genuinely like a piano and not keyboard) and earnest, exuberant singing was feel-good rock with shades of singer-songwriters. Bellamy showed off his ivory-tickling skills again in “Butterflies and Hurricanes,” which had a short cadenza right in the middle of it. Pretentious, maybe, but art rock in full force, and genuinely enjoyable to listen to.
Black Holes and Revelations sounds to me like Muse is on autopilot. It’s a disc full of forgettable songs, to be sure, but what’s worse is that they didn’t bother to include anything that made the last album so good: everything’s disposable, and tainted with the constant inclusion of “techno,” in much the same way that Radiohead does “modern prog” by the use of samples and synthesized sound. The difference is that Radiohead pulls it off, whereas Muse sounds trashy and like some one-hit wonder from the 80s. If you need proof, just listen to “Knights of Cydonia,” which may just be the most awfully tacky thing ever put to tape, topped off by Bellamy’s Freddie Mercury imitation (don’t quit your day job, Matt).
There were plenty of tacky moments in Absolution, too, but Bellamy & Co. managed to dilute it with great moments—in this latest offering, there’s very little crashing piano (the little bit in the Radiohead-like “Hoodoo” doesn’t count), and very few feel-good moments that made me want to press the back button and listen again. After several runs through the album, the only songs I could pick out were the ones that struck me as gawdy and awful, like the aforementioned “Knights of Cydonia.” When the only songs I can remember are the ones bad enough to stick out, there’s something seriously wrong with the album in question. Over-the-top can be fun, but Muse tries to mix so many schticks the the only result is a muddled musical mess, hardly worthy of spending your money on.
That being said, I hesitate to call Black Holes and Revelations a bad album; it does, however, pale in comparison to others in the genre, and even to Muse’s own catalogue. Unless you’ve got money to burn, or a bittorrent client2, you might want to pass this stinker up.
Funnily enough, I went to Pitchfork Media’s review of the album, and was amazed to see that I’m not alone in my analysis: Sam Ubi even uses some of the same adjectives to describe it. I think I made a friend.