Evolution is one of the key aspects of life, without getting into a morale debate, it spawned life. Without it we would've got nowhere. If evolution was non existent you could be a few inches long, covered in fur, reading this in a burrow. But life in isn't the only place that can be found. Architecture is one example, in the sixties it looked like every sky line would be chock-a-block full of cast concrete flats. However, move forward fifty years and now our cities a drowning in steel and glass. Technology is another good example, in the seventies you were the coolest person on the block if you were seen with your brick-sized phone. Now you wouldn't be seen dead with a phone that’s larger than your average contact lens. And finally, music is an evolving process. As we speak, new things are being made and created. Evolution is the key to a prosperous band. Had U2 carried on releasing stuff like Boy or The Joshua Tree they would've got nowhere and he same story applies to Muse. Had they carried on writing tracks like Sober and Microcuts I highly doubt they would be playing Wembley. Instead they've evolved their music and produced some highly desirable CDs. Black Holes and Revelations is their fourth album and is the most diverse album by Muse yet.
Whereas Muse’s previous albums tend to feature few influences, Black Holes… features many different techniques that have been borrowed from other genres. The most prominent aspect of this is the high amount of Spanish-sounding songs. City of Delusion is constantly backed up with Matt’s jumpy acoustic guitar riff that’s based around some flamenco chords. As well as this, Spanish orchestral melodies are woven into the track; slowly building up to the climactic chorus were they dance and swirl through the rock guitars, entwining themselves in the melody of the song. Hoodoo is also very much like this, the guitar intro runs through a minor scale on then launches into a fast-paced flamenco riff. Like City of Delusion, the string sections liven up in the middle part and add to the dramatic, climactic feeling the song generates. But even some of the songs that aren’t solely built around this style show small influences of it, the guitar and trumpet solos in Knights of Cydonia also sound kinda Spanish.
Disco rock is apparently another style that Muse have picked up during the creation of the album. The infamous Supermassive Black Hole is one of the few tracks that could have a chance of being played at a disco. The electric drums are as simple as can be so it’s easy to dance to, combined with the catchy chorus and the easily distinguishable falsetto vocals this track is much more mainstream than Muse are normally but this doesn’t mean there’s a decline in quality in any stretch of the imagination. In some places it seems Muse have been listening to some Metal music as Assassin could easily be called metal if looked at from a certain perspective, The jumpy raging drum riff and the charging guitars are both characteristics of oldskool rock. How ever this track also relates to Muse’s earlier stuff, the falsetto chorus could’ve come from many of the tracks from Origin of Symmetry, which leads me onto another point. While they’ve moved forward with their music they haven’t been afraid to bring back some techniques used in the previous albums. The style of bass playing that spawned the bass riff in Hysteria led to a fantastic bass solo in Invincible, the riff based songs that were so prominent on Origin… have been scrapped but not totally forgotten. The outro of Knights… is pure riff based mayhem, the same goes to Exo-politics and many more of the tracks on here.
Another thing that’s prominent on this album is the continual show of talent from each of the members. All through the album there are displays of talent and lyrical genius that could only come from a highly talented group, which they are but what’s more important is that each of the members work together and never “overload” a song. Seeing as the group’s front man, Matt Bellamy is arguable one of the best musicians to come from the last ten years you’ll expect something from him that’s above average and Bellamy does just that, and some. His prowess as a guitarist is strikingly evident, the guitar solo on Invincible would have most guitarists using two tracks of recording space but Bellamy makes do with just one, bulldozing his way through the higher reaches of his guitar. Hoodoo is a fantastic display of his talent as a pianist. The thunderous chords that echo from the chorus send shivers down my spine. However most musicians know that what you do play is far less important than what you don’t play and Bellamy has taken this to heart. His sparing riff in Supermassive Black Hole is nothing special as technicality goes but without it the verse would sound strikingly bare. His solos in the epic Knights of Cydonia are another place where he uses this to his advantage, while some of them are tremolo picked he still only uses about two notes per bar. As far as lyrics and vocals go, Bellamy has improved. Thankfully he’s stopped using his screeching falsetto that plagued Microcuts but replaced with a more melodic style of singing. In Knights… his voice ranges from comforting to desperate showing his versatility as a singer. In Soldiers Poem he harmonizes fantastically with Wholstenholme and sings in a melodic falsetto that’s a joy to listen to.
If Bellamy is the brains of this operation then surely Chris Wholstenholme must be the backbone, all through the album he adds small details that while they’re not hugely noticeable, are still crucial to the sound of the trio. The main reason, Wholstenholme is such a highly respected musician is because of his amazing bass lines, however unlike previous albums where his bass was often the main instrument, he tends to lay back slightly here, giving a more dynamic and melodic sound. Take Starlight as an example, the bass is deathly simple, my dog could probably play it, but rather than make it sound boring it this works to his advantage and helps create a pounding rhythm for the verse. In Supermassive… his octave spanning bass riff in the chorus fits just perfectly, fitting well with Bellamy’s vocals. But this doesn’t mean that he’s done nothing special, quite the opposite infact. His more technical side starts to show in a few of the songs. In Invincible his bass solo is just fantastic, transforming a good song into a great song. City of Delusion features him much further up front, with his rolling bass riff that drives the verse. However this isn’t the only thing he contributes to, one of the most underrated aspects of this group are Wholstenholme’s great backing vocals. Often he doesn’t vary from oohhs and ahhs but this is just perfect, his talent at singing does not lie at writing complex vocal harmonies but rather at finding ideal places to back up Bellamy. Still, when he does start singing recognisable words he does it at ideal moment. His particular highlight is in Soldier Poem where as I’ve all ready mentioned, sings an equal amount as Bellamy, balancing out the vocals and harmonizing perfectly. However this isn’t his only vocal high point, his fantastic backing vocals are fantastic all through the album.
Still we mustn’t forget the most outshined and under rated member of the trio, Dominic Howard. So often, Bellamy and Wholstenholme are credited for the musical skills but it’s a rare occasion that the enigmatic Howard gets a mention. And it’s hard to see why, he’s an undoubtedly a greatly talented drummer and this album is undeniable proof of that. Like Wholstenholme he doesn’t always try and play ridiculously fast drum patterns but instead uses simplicity to his advantage. The drum beat in Starlight is enough to get any toe happily tapping away and Map of the Problematique and Exo-politics both make good use of the toms. In Assassin he speeds up and makes an impressive show of keeping up with the ruthlessly fast guitars. His drumming in the first part of Knights is also great; the rhythmic pounding of his drums keeps the song going and like, Starlight; makes you tap your toes. Howard has definitely shown his talent as a drummer on this album and it’s know obviously apparent that he’s deserved of his place in the group.
At the moment, lyrics that oppose the government are officially in and these tend to occur mostly in the album. However they’re not some half assed scrawlings by a past-it member of a teenage angst band, rather they’re writings of great talent that ruthlessly rip into the policies and problems that have been caused by world leaders. The main theme of these lyrics is the war in Iraq where Bellamy honestly portrays his feeling of the deaths it has caused. The charming ballad that is Soldier’s Poem is the least subtle but still works perfectly. Like I mentioned before he harmonizes with Wholstenholme majestically with a melodic falsetto voice while he sings of the true feelings of a lonely soldier in Iraq who’s risking his life for some thing he doesn’t believe. Map of the Problematique is a song written in the position of an innocent Iraqi who’s seeing his loved ones attacked and killed for no reason, lines such as “when we bleed we bleed the same” and “I can’t get it right since I met you” are truly chilling. In Take a Bow he is far more harsh with his lyrics, prophesizing about Bush who’ll burn in hell for risking his country and corrupting the world. In a few of the songs he branches of slightly with his lyrics focusing more on the ideas of conspiracies and political corruption. Assassin is one of the better examples of this style. The insanely fast drum patterns and the raging guitars suit the charged lyrics that tell us to over ride the government and “aim, shoot, kill our leaders”. Hoodoo is slightly more subtle with it’s lyrics but is still good none the less. The song smoothly rides along with mourning flamenco guitars and eerie violins while Bellamy sings from the perspective of a failed leader. However the song soon changes, leading into a charged middle section that works well with Bellamy’s vocals that talk of a world ruined by conspiracies.
Seeing as it’s a Muse album, the CD was destined to have lyrics containing something about aliens but what did eventually appear in this theme couldn’t have been predicted, sure there was the normal aliens coming to invade idea in some songs. Exo-politics is the most obvious song that falls under this category. The lyrics talk about the aforementioned dictators using people’s beliefs in paranoia and aliens to manipulate the human race like a toy doll. The leading chorus is quite poignant, predicting Zetas filling the sky, only to be uncovered as the world leaders. The epic Knights of Cydonia is by far the wackiest. Cydonia is a name of an area of Mars where an ancient civilization was supposed be owing to the oddly geometrical hill sides, the knights in the title are said to be the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, so seeing as the general vein of the song is a call to arms kind of thing, it appears that a revolution has begun, things need to be changed and the horsemen have to be fought against. Whether or not this is the intended meaning of the song is debateable but it still shows that Matt is still on top form with his fantastically strange lyrics.
So going back to my intro of evolution, have Muse? And more importantly, have they done it well? Thankfully it’s a yes on both accounts. They’ve changed their sound and shown that they’re anything but a one-trick pony, ranging from Spanish rock pieces to six-minutes prog rock work outs they have filled this album with multiple styles and genres but have still kept some of their original sound that made them the band they are today, this is definitely a must have album.