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Latest Muse album yields mixed reactions

Patrick William Moore | Thursday, August 31, 2006

“Black Holes and Revelations” marks the fifth album released by the British rock trio Muse, a band whose unique sound, immense talent and raw energy have catapulted them to the forefront of the UK alternative scene.

Muse’s sound is perhaps best described as two parts Radiohead, two parts Nirvana and one part Rachmaninov. Such a description nonetheless falls short, as Muse’s influences are innumerable and the band has invented itself just as much as it has fed from other inspirations.

Fans of Muse’s previous work may initially be taken aback with their first listen through of “Black Holes,” as the album makes radical stylistic departures from their previously acclaimed “Absolution” and “Origin of Symmetry.” Layers of electronic melodies, dance beats, nifty effects, flamenco guitars and brass instruments are new and play a prominent role.

The album kicks off with “Take A Bow,” a politically charged opening that warns the world’s politicians, “You’ll burn in hell for your sins.” It’s powerful, both musically and lyrically, and other parts of the album carry similar political undertones.

The love song that follows, “Starlight,” is about a space traveler who leaves his home and significant other light-years behind. Like the political messages of “Take A Bow,” the sci-fi themes present in “Starlight” recur throughout “Black Holes.”

“Starlight” is perhaps the prettiest song of the album, possessing an airy piano riff that should remind listeners of Coldplay. The third track, “Supermassive Black Hole,” is unabashedly pop-rock. Released as a single before the album’s debut, it’s a fun tune that steals the dance floor back from the rap and hip-hop genres.

“Map Of The Problematique” is an epic collage of electronic beats, piano and guitar, which combine with frontman Matt Bellamy’s falsetto vocals to form the most mesmerizing track of the album. As the electronic drums fade, the mood turns somber in “Soldier’s Poem,” a simple ballad in which a disenchanted soldier at war tells his country that it doesn’t deserve the freedom he’s fighting for.

The harmonized vocals featured in this song would do Queen proud, and reappear in many of the later tracks. “Invincible,” an uplifting song about overcoming odds, immediately lifts off the dismal fog of the song preceding it. Muse fans will triumphantly belt out the inspirational chorus again and again.

“Assassin,” a high-octane whirlwind of metal style guitar, truly showcases the band’s energy. The verse once again takes on a political tone, urging for a violent overthrow of “demonocracy.”

“Exo-Politics,” on the other hand, is less about real politics and more about the conspiracy theory of an alien race secretly governing the planet Earth. The sci-fi lyrics here are intriguing, but some will find this track to be musically dull.

“City Of Delusion” is a pulse-pounding, dramatic piece of prog rock with flamenco guitar, strings and a lone horn that simply must be heard to be believed – one of the album’s best.

As the album begins to come to a close, “Hoodoo” carries it into the darkness with a sinister, Rachmaninov-inspired piano melody. Once the piano is silenced, the sound of galloping horses thunders into the aural foreground amidst sirens and spaceship laser fire – this is the beginning of “Knights of Cydonia,” the album’s best and closing song.

With Cydonia, past and future, Wild West and outer space combine to form a sprawling epic masterpiece. The climax approaches as Bellamy sings, “No one’s gonna take me alive,” and then a rocking guitar solo takes the album to its culmination. In “Black Holes and Revelations,” Muse’s musical talent and versatility reach new heights.

No alternative rock aficionado should miss it.