While Muse certainly stepped out of their "Radiohead clone" days with Origin of Symmetry, their musical evolution seems to be following a Radiohead path, in a way that appears to be unintended. Take a look at Radiohead's first 4 albums. The first two, Pablo Honey and The Bends, were more compilations of songs without a defining concept behind the entire album. Sure, each album had a distinct sound, but they did not have a distinct purpose. Moving down the Radiohead timeline, the next two albums are Ok Computer and Kid A. Both albums, while they aren't really concept albums, do have a concept and a point to the entire album, rather than a dozen songs recorded in a certain amount of time. Muse seem to follow this same path. Absolution, an album revolving around the apocalypse, started this style of album making Muse has discovered. Black Holes and Revelations refers to times in history where all hell is about to break loose, tensions building and people protesting.
However, the largest progression made on this album is the musical progression. While it's no Kid A, Black Holes and Revelations dabbles in some experimentation of its own. Everything from Queen-style vocal arrangements to songs akin to Nancy Sinatra to a dance-pop single (much to the demise of many Muse fans), Black Holes and Revelations is unlike any other previous Muse effort. Gone are the huge piano epics and in are synthesizers, operatic strings, and trumpet solos. Of course, the main Muse instrumentation is still here, guitar, bass and drums, but the guitar sits in the back for nearly half of the album.
The real downfall on this album is Matt's lyrics. He, like so many other artists, takes a political stance. However, this fits the concept in such a way that it isn't as annoying as, say, American Idiot. There are no direct Bush (or Blair, for that matter) bashings. The political stance is not what lets down here. It's the actual lyric writing. Repetition is used heavily here, especially in songs such as Starlight and Map of the Problematique. Clich" lines are all over the album, especially in Supermassive Black Hole ("Ooh baby I'm a fool for no one, but ooh baby I'm a fool for you") and Invincible ("Together we're invincible"). Most songs are simply written and leave a listener asking for more. However, sometimes, the simplicity works and the lyrics are delivered in such a way that all you sense is the utter power in Matt's voice. A perfect example of that lies in Take a Bow, the album opener. "You'l burn in Hell" screams out utter hatred. Regardless of the abundance of bad lyricism; there are a few great lyrical songs in here. A Soldier's Poem, Hoodoo, and Knights of Cydonia all contain excellent lyrics that stand up with Matt's best.
The first half the album shows a poppier side of Muse, including the first two singles, Starlight and Supermassive Black Hole. Supermassive Black Hole brings an electronic drum kit akin to a Britney song, a 2 note guitar riff, and catchy as hell hooks and choruses. Bellamy says this song was inspired by going to clubs at night and wanting to someday go to a club and dance to one of his songs. Thus, Supermassive Black Hole was created. Starlight, on the other hand, strives more to be a great pop rock song. Starting on 10 seconds of the same bass note until bringing a U2 sounding synth melody, Starlight immediately sounds like a single. Cheesy lines such as "You electrify my life" are terrible, but this could be considered the title track, since the chorus says Black Holes and Revelations.
However, Black Holes and Revelations doesn't hit the high point until the second half, starting with Assassin. Assassin showcases Dom's drumming, usually a let down for Muse. The riff borderlines on a metal riff, but still keeps the Muse sound that always remains prevalent no matter what the band does. Dom's drumming is the best on the album, and is probably the best he's ever done. The song pulses forward and sounds great, but still lacks a bridge and more variety in the song. The chorus is anti-climatic, but the song makes up for itself for the surprise metal sound.
After Exo-Politics, the last 3 tracks of the album arrive, and they are the best on the album. City of Delusion opens with a 2 chord acoustic pattern. Then the Chris enters with his signature distorted bass sound. The chord pattern expands and complicates, and the bass sticks to the same line throughout. After a beat of palm muted strums, the chorus explodes into powerful chords and Matt singing his best on the album yet. After a held note by Matt, strings appear and continue throughout the chorus. The cinematic strings are truly a highlight on the entire album. Everything drops out except for the bass riff, and then palm muted guitar comes in with a syncopated pattern. This is something new for Muse, a build-up section where new elements keep adding on until another chorus. The song goes through another chorus, and then another surprise appears- a trumpet solo. While the solo is nothing to marvel at, it fits overtop of the verse riff surprisingly well. The song goes through one last operatic chorus and closes out.
Hoodoo is definitely the most experimental song on the album. It opens with only a guitar, and after a short intro, Matt slides down the fretboard and bursts out into a short flamenco pattern. The guitar then sticks to playing sparse chords while Matt croons the listener. A brush kit and string section enters for the chorus, until the entire character of the song changes with a dramatic piano entrance. The song pours out into the most emotional and heartfelt of the album. This is short-lived however; as everything drops out but the sparse guitar playing and Matt once more, showcasing one of the best lyrical stanzas on the album.
The U.S. single, Knights of Cydonia, closes out the album on an epic note. At just over 6 minutes, Knights is the longest on the album, taking a mix of surf-rock, Origin-esque synthesizer lines, and lead guitar out the ***. The trumpet reappears in the background, almost as to reminisce upon the album. Matt busts out the falsetto for the first time since Supermassive Black Hole, oohing and ahhing the main melodic theme. Just past 2 minutes, Matt enters with actual words. Chris harmonizes with him for most of the lines. Chris takes a different role on this album, rather than playing his frantic baselines, he spends most of his time making excellent harmonies with Matt. Anyway, the song continues with the main instrumental theme after the short verse. At 3:18, the song drops of everything except, Chris arpeggiating and a humongous vocal harmony screaming out "No one's going to take me alive." Matt recorded a track of himself a full octave above the rest of the vocal tracks, and the harmonies sound amazing. That part is guaranteed to give the listener chills. Finally, after the vocal harmony, Muse gives something their earlier fans have been anxiously waiting for the entire album, a big, chunky guitar riff. The album closes on the rocking riff, and leaves you breathless.
Black Holes and Revelations may not be the most consistently good album Muse has ever put out, but it certainly showcases some of the best Muse songs ever. A few years down the road, this might only be the stepping stone Muse needed to reach the echelon of their idols- Radiohead. However, Black Holes and Revelations does not disappoint, and only leaves one wondering where Muse will go next.
Map of the Problematique
City of Delusion
Knights of Cydonia