I'm aware of the abundance of reviews on this album but I started to write a reply to one of the other reviews, and it pretty much turned into a full scale review of the album anyway. So here it is:
The album takes Muse's style in a direction further than any of their previous releases have taken them from their core (usually dark) sound, and while there are changes in direction and many new styles being tried out, I feel as though the album has a sense of completeness and it always manages to sound like a Muse song. This is quite a feat considering Muse typically have minor key songs concerning topics such as Absolution's (2003) end of the world drama, while on this album we have a generally more upbeat sound. Lyrically Matt explores some old territory as well as some new. Songs gaining a more political twist, insisting that the government is doing things wrong and the future could be worse off because of it, but also revisiting the topic of relationships which has been present throughout their career. Unlike a lot of other new bands who have delved into political topics, Muse do it quite well, and do not simply say that George Bush is bad, but bring up topics such as war and rebelling against the authorities from different perspectives.
The album opens with Take a Bow, which is very interesting as a song, and probably the most "Absolution-esque" song on here, yet with the more electronic sound which will be displayed throughout the album. This song is far from upbeat, condemning being the best word to describe it.
Starlight is, essentially a perfect pop song. The melodies are catchy, the vocals are strong, and the keyboard and synth is upbeat, which in itself is different for Muse. The bass is more simple than Muse are known for, yet warm and fuzzy and fits the song fine. I would go as far as to say the song simply doesn’t need a more complex bassline than this as the main emphasis is on the keyboards and vocal melodies.
Supermassive Black Hole; what more can I say? Muse fans either loved it or hated it, though I think all can agree it sounds much better live. Similar to Starlight in the sense that it is a near perfect pop song, and both the verse and chorus melodies are extremely catchy and well sung in Matt’s falsetto voice, as well as being complimented by Chris’ well sung lower part in the chorus.
Map of the Promlematique has an amazing "end of the world" atmosphere to it, and while being based on only four chords it has a lot of interesting synth leads and piano to keep it from being boring. The vocal melodies are also good. This song has a very 80's, Depeche Mode type feel to it, musically, but Matt’s dramatic vocals again manage to draw us back to the Muse style.
A soldiers poem; some people say they hate it, which I find so hard to stomach, what is there to hate about it? It's just short and soft. The harmonies are great in it, and it's very much a cool interlude of a song. It's hardly standout by any means, but there's not much to hate
here. The song is redeemed to a 3.5/5 live because it’s played on piano and sounds somewhat more interesting with the live harmonies, but I’d have to give it…
Invincible was my standout track upon the first few listens of the album. While some people say they don't like the lyrics; I for one do, and it's nice to see Muse being positive and hopeful, also the vocal melodies are great as well as the amazing bassline/guitar solo buildup into the strong last chorus. Personally this will be one of the highlights when I go to see the band live, and is a good pop song that actually builds goes somewhere, as great songs should.
Assassin is merely the heaviest song on here, but melody-wise it's relatively weak. The riffs aren’t even as good as some people seem to make them out to be. This song isn't bad at all, it's just very average. It has nothing on Hysteria or Stockholm syndrome which combine both the heaviness with the melodies that Muse are known for.
Exo-politics mixes a dance-feel with a rock song, and has decent riffs in it as well as a strong chorus. A better, more melodic and danceable version of Assassin? Very possibly (I know this will raise some eyebrows).
City of Delusion is very different from anything Muse have done before. It starts out with an acoustic guitar, whichy alone is rare for Muse, and then the bassline comes in, which is interesting an upbeat. Matt sings very passionately on this track, as usual, followed closely by some almost middle-eastern sounding strings, and there's even a trumpet solo towards the end. Great stuff.
Hoodoo is a slow opener, effected western-style acoustic guitar with some laid back, soft and eerie vocals. It builds into a smashing piano section and into a big "chorus", only to fade out much the same way it came in. An interesting song, like the last, experimenting in ground that Muse haven’t touched before, and does so quite successfully.
Knights of Cydonia is a good song on the album. I won't call it the best song on here, but it's definitely a strong track. You're surely heard the good about this track, but my only complaint is that the falsetto is perhaps a little too high in places. In the awesome Queen-esque harmonized chorus section they could have done with possibly removing the highest part of the harmony too, IMO. Live the song is pretty killer though, as Matt generally sings a little lower. I can't complain too much though as the song will definitely be one I would hope to see in a live setting, and the guitar melodies are good. The album ends on a high note.
Although my version of the album does not have this song present, I was tempted to buy the Japanese import while I was in Paris on holiday… However, I settled for downloading it.
Glorious is opened with some odd noises, and finishes on the same note it begin. In between is a song which is neither great, nor bad, but feels as though perhaps more work could have been spent on perfecting it. A catchy piano part and rhythm is later copied by an almost metal-style guitar and the bass notes that underlay the riff follow a good progression… although the chromatic sounding part of the song is a little boring. It is clear to me why it was made a b-side as it is slightly lower in quality than the majority of the album tracks, however is superior in quality to the other b-side available at the moment; Crying Shame, which can be found on the Supermassive Black Hole single.
All in all, there's nothing bad
on here. If I was to say which tracks were mediocre by Muse's standards I would possibly name Assassin and Soldiers poem, yet I wouldn't mind seeing either in a live setting, they're just not quite as strong all around as other songs on here. Another point to make is that I feel that in order to have made a better album they could have had more standout riffs. I feel as though another bass riff of the quality of Hysteria, or guitar riff of the quality of Plug In Baby, maybe even a piano riff of Sunburn's qualities would have put some peoples minds at rest about the level of musicianship going down on this record. That said, the drums are better than ever, and the guitar and bass are both still interesting, just not quite as stand-out as on previous releases. Personally this record proves to me that becoming more poppy does not equate to selling out, and you can still retain artistic integrity and be experimental. Overall, fans of Muse's darkest material will be surprised, and even resistant to this release, but should overall come to realise that this is more than simply a solid record. If you don’t like any form of electronic or pop influenced music, then you’re going to be even more resistant to this album. Most importantly, I feel that while trying to recommend similar albums, I can’t think of any that are adequately similar in all aspects, therefore Muse have succeeded in combining this mix of pop, dance, electronica, space-rock, western film score, acoustic with Queen harmonies, plus their own sound into something which is undeniably their own. I’ll hold off from saying this album is a classic, seeing as it has yet to pass the test of time.
Personal rating = 4.5/5
Though I may be biased with Muse being one of my favourite bands, I couldn’t bare to see this album slip below 4/5, which is possibly a more fair rating.