Review Summary: Muse’s fourth release shows the band starting to drop off, but in the catchiest way possible.
How a band follows up on a monstrously successful album speaks volumes about their character. For many artists, it is the kiss of death that sends them spiraling into a pit of unoriginality and an impossible quest to please everyone. Following 2003’s Absolution
, Muse found themselves facing a crossroads in their career. Black Holes and Revelations
captures this transition, highlighting the band’s unquestioned talent but also further exposing their weaknesses. Although there is significantly more filler on this album that on previous efforts, Muse manages to keep their exquisite songwriting skills in tact and they return with their most accessible record to date.
Black Holes and Revelations
is a controversial album. Much like Radiohead’s Kid A
, the album formed something of a divided fan base. The lack of emphasis on guitar solos and classical piano, along with comparatively uninspired lyrics, alienated some of the band’s most dedicated fans. On the other hand, Black Holes
definitely experiments with Muse’s sound, acquiring thousands, if not millions, of new fans in the process. It is a musician’s classic catch-22; the quest to explore new frontiers musically while remaining true to loyal fans. Of course, Muse is no different in this struggle…and, of course, this album is no Kid A either.
Black Holes and Revelations
shows marked improvement in many areas, namely their incorporation of synthesizers, acoustic guitar (especially on “City of Delusion”), and the vocal improvement of Matthew Bellamy. The addition of synthesizers to nearly every track creates a tangible atmosphere that helps sell the space/apocalypse oriented theme. “Take a Bow” is a prime example, with a swirling atmosphere that makes Bellamy’s chants of you’ll burn in hell, yeah you’ll burn in hell for your sins
actually seem to have some merit. However, the overwhelming synth additions also serve to give each instrument its desired effect in the context of the album. Each drum beat seems to echo as if it is traveling through space and time, and each guitar riff is the sonic equivalent of flames demolishing a city. Everything about Black Holes
is glorious, epic, and fantastically overdone. While this can also serve to bring the album down (“Invincible”, “Supermassive Black Hole”) it works to Muse’s benefit more often than not. For example, the closing track “Knights of Cydonia” is easily the most impressive and ambitious song in the band’s entire career. From the four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse
reminiscent gallops of the opening minute, to Bellamy’s ridiculous falsetto, to the complicated riff at the end, the song stands alone as one of Muse’s greatest.
As previously mentioned, two other improved aspects of Muse’s sound can be found in the acoustic guitars and vocals. The acoustic guitars aren’t necessarily more
present than they were on other albums, but they do far more with their brief appearances. For instance, the opening minute of “City of Delusion” shows that Bellamy can strum the acoustics just as well as he can shred the electric guitars, and the acoustic playing continues throughout the background of the entire song. “Soldier’s Poem”, the album’s primary ballad, also features some acoustic work, but the strength of this song really lies in Bellamy’s voice. Matthew Bellamy’s vocals have been a strength of the band ever since their inception, but “Soldier’s Poem” shows him singing in a lower, soothing voice and writing political lines that stand as a highlight on an otherwise lyrically lackluster album. And of course, Bellamy’s trademarked falsetto remains in tact throughout Black Holes
, with standout moments on “Starlight”, “Invincible”, and “Knight of Cydonia.”
For all the areas of improvement that can be found on Black Holes and Revelations
, there are still numerous shortcomings, many of which were not present on prior releases. Origin of Symmetry
were two technically sound albums, with breathtaking instrumental moments and complicated guitar riffs. Black Holes and Revelations
isn’t a complete departure from the norm, but it certainly makes a strong push in the mainstream direction. There are noticeably less guitar solos, and the classical experimentation that made Absolution
so unique is all but gone. Also, while the lyrics were admittedly never Muse’s forte, they can be downright cringe-worthy at times on the band’s fourth LP, with lines such as:
No one's gonna take me alive
The time has come to make things right
Stand up for what you believe
We can truly say
Together we're invincible
For a band that has made a few overtly political albums, including Black Holes
, lyrics such as these would fail to inspire all but the most naïve of listeners. Between the uniformly disappointing lyrics and an overall downgrade in the technical skills backing them up, Black Holes and Revelations
can certainly be seen as a musical digression from Origin of Symmetry
As a whole, Black Holes and Revelations
is a polarizing album. It brings many new aspects to Muse’s sound, but it also trades-off by eliminating some of the things that fans loved most about the band. However, the main changes ultimately point Muse in a more accessible, mainstream direction. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, seeing as their tunes are as interesting and catchy as ever. Despite the transformations in Muse’s sound, they also still retain enough
craftsmanship to claim that they haven’t gone completely soft on their original fan base. Therefore, Black Holes and Revelations
marks a controversial but successful evolution in Muse’s sound that, love it or hate it, offers quite the enjoyable listening experience.