Review Summary: This is Muse at it's rawest - sometimes a good thing, sometimes a bad thing.
If the words "Magnum Opus" and "Muse" mean something to you, you'll probably have heard a lot about this album already. It seems to be the album that the Muse fans have chosen as the best - however, there are some obvious flaws that keep it from that title in my eyes, Absolution being the better album.
I must admit though, the opener New Born is some of the best Muse I've ever seen. It begins with a recurring, haunting piano riff that will force you into a cold sweat; fast, well done bass work; and the occasional, perfect cymbal roll. However, this almost ballady slow turns into a fast, almost evil and definitely heavy rocker. The lyrics are spot on and are just as matched by the way they're sung; when Bellamy gasps "When you've seen/seen too much/too young/young/soulless is everywhere" you can feel perfection in the air. The bass licks and riffs are some of the best on the album, and the drumming by Howard is perfect - simple, filling and a great backbone. This amounts to the best tune on the album, definitely.
The lead-off single, Bliss, is more of the same, but less. A similarly haunting synthesiser riff begins the tune, however it is carpeted over by a very catchy bass and guitar combo. Overall, the song works quite well; however, it gives me the feeling in some places that they could have done more, better, notably the lyrics. They're cliched, painful and often quite odd. However, the chorus (as usual for Muse) is an absolute revelation, where everything seems to come together and work. However, this is not the best song on the album, in any way.
If you are looking at piano/synthesiser licks and parts, you'd probably be better off looking at its successor: the haunting, powerful Space Dementia. With better lyrics then Bliss, better keyboard, better tune, better singing, it's almost a crying shame that the song reeks of repetition. The drumming is very good, probably some of the best on the album. However the bass line just drags behind, its only seeming purpose to create weight. This coupled with a rather weak, out of place chorus, sum up to Space Dementia's only flaws. To be fair, it's actually a very good tune, and probably a better choice as a single then Bliss.
From here on in, the album is much less piano focussed, starting of with the aptly named Hyper Music. This song is hyper, in every way, from the heavy and spiky guitar to the fast and furious drumming. However, the real star of the show here is Christopher Wolstenholme with his utterly brilliant bass line that propels the song along at top speed, bouncing along heavily, leaving nothing to be desired. The lyrics can be a bit s*** sometimes; however this is not the point of the song. The point is a song that makes you bounce off the walls; a bit of a hardcore dance track. This is definitely one of the best songs on the album.
It segues directly into Plug In Baby, with a fast guitar riff reminiscent of Toccata in D, a synth bass line that never stops, and Dom's usual drumming (i.e filling but nothing too spectacular). The song is very indie, catchy and radio; this is not a bad thing. The song is very easy to listen to and very enjoyable. Good lyrics, good tune and good guitar make for Matt's best moment on the album.
This is followed by the behemoth Citizen Erased; an astonishing, if overrated, almost symphony of sound that weaves from heavy guitar riffs to beautiful choruses, into slow ballads, back into heavy guitar solos and classic piano. This could be seen as genre whoring; but they pull it off so well it doesn't really matter. The chorus is a good thing; catchy and with some absolutely amazing lyrics: "For one moment/I wish you'd hold your stage/With no feelings at all/Open minded/I'm sure I used to be so free". An elemental opus with no care at all about what anyone thinks about it: Citizen Erased is a good thing.
It segues directly into the interesting Micro Cuts. A great guitar riff to start and an even better one sandwiches one of the most experimental songs Muse has ever done, with no care in the world about what anyone thinks of it. It gets better every time you listen to it, so stick with it. Matthew's falsetto ices an incredibly heavy song with brilliant lyrics (that you can't really understand). This is the very meaning of Metal Opera. The chorus will haunt you for days; however it's isn't exactly what you'd call sophisticated. Definitely deserving of a spot on the album, an addictive antidote to the norm is Micro Cuts - and definitely a reasonably excellent one.
Screenager is a suitable followup: a relevant, calming ballad. In fact, I would call it perfect, with it's spanish flavour mixed with slow, subtle electonica and perfect backing, if it weren't for the rather weak verse in both lyrics and tune. At the chorus though you will be amazed by the arpeggios, Matt's soothing falsetto and the gorgeous, tear jerking tune. Sad is a good word; beautiful too, but not Muse. It sounds like nothing else on the album, but still works rather well. Something to look forward to on the album, and up there with Hyper Music and New Born despite its underrated status.
It's followed by Dark Shines; a rather forgettable take on European dance music, with a pretty rubbish tune and some awful lyrics. Whilst some might not like this view, it represents the weakest moment on the album, with a strange and odd slow part, and an even stranger other parts. It's too genre whoring and poppy to bear - best skip to the next track.
This next track is brilliance to a tee. Feeling Good is a cover, no more, but a very, very well done cover. In making it heavier and more Muse, they have still managed to retain all the good qualities of the original song. It's bluesy, fun to listen to and showcases Muse's skills perfectly. It might not be Muse's song, but its one of their best. If that makes any sense. The distortion fits so perfectly it's amazing; Dom's drumming keeps it in beat perfectly and the organ on top is the icing on the cake.
The epic album closer, Megalomania, is heavy, haunting, slow, fast, brilliant, catchy and bearable at the same time. The lyrics are the best on the album; look at them for yourself, for they wonder the intellectual mind so captivatingly it hurts. The drumming is standard fare, same with the bass, however they fit so well it doesn't matter. In any case; the real star of the show is Matt, with the pipe organ pumping although the way through the song creating a haunting, brilliant tune to close a haunting, brilliant album.