There are times, where no matter what style of music a band does, that the band will decide to tweak their sound. This has been known to have disastrous consequences in both the media, and fan circles. For some, they've simply "sold out", or, to have done something so drastic, the music focuses on the experimentation, but has none of the qualities that the band have embraced previously.
I've always been entranced by Matt Bellamy's haunting vocal range, which is quite possibly more versatile than a Swiss army knife. But with that, I also thought Muse had two consistent faults in their albums, one of them, was a weak closing track, with the exception of Origin of Symmetry's closing track, Megalomania; and the other, which I, personally found rather annoying, was Matt Bellamy not utilising the synths to their full potential. But in the past, the good has always outweighed the bad, sometimes, more convincingly than others. However, this time, Muse have changed their sound and sometimes, rather dramatically
But now, the best part of 3 years after the release of Absolution, and Muse are back with Black Holes and Revelations the band's 4th studio album, and things have changed a bit for the Devon boys. Matt Bellamy has found something deep inside himself that's allowed him to write less depressing songs, which is one of the main differences, Muse's last 3 albums have had a rather dark aura about them, like Matt, Dom and Chris were prophets speaking about the end of our age and the corruption of governments (see The Small Print from Absolution
But on this album the lyrics have got a real burst of optimism, with Invincible having the most optimistic lyrics of all And tonight we can truly say, Together we're invincible. but this isn't the only dramatic change in the band's approach, Matt Bellamy has begun to delve deeper into what is, arguably, the band's strongest, yet most untapped resource, the synths. Opening track Take a Bow is a synth fuelled rally cry, while Invincible utilizes a well set balance by having synth dependent verses and guitar orientated choruses, which adds up well. As well as this, Matt continues to use that counter-tenor range to it's full extent, whether it be his wails at the beginning of Knights of Cydonia or the more soothing high end of his vocal range on Map Of The Problematique , Matt continues to shine time and time again vocally
But, as ever, Matt's guitar skills shine long after the rest of his uses burn out, and this time, he's stepped it up an notch, Knights of Cydonia is a festival of techniques which, while they've been used by Muse in the past, haven't been used in the same way, in the two minute long introduction, Matt uses tremolo picking and his trusty Floyd rose tremolo bar to their full potential. Not to mention Assassin which is the old heavy, angry Muse brimming with passion once again. Matt uses a simple riff which shows that while Muse are rather showy, they can utilize simplicity. And to round up the review of Matt's guitar skills on the album, we have to return to Invincible which, for what I think is a first, features a 2-handed tap solo.
However, where Matt has flourished, Chris has begun to fall a bit in impressiveness, each previous Muse album had at least one song with a prominent driving bass riff, Showbiz had Muscle Museum, Origin of Symmetry had Citizen Erased and Absolution had Hysteria; but Black Holes and Revelations doesn't really have one of these defining bass moments, the closest is comes is probably Starlight but it doesn't really touch upon what Chris is truly capable of. However, one thing Chris has in his favour is that his backing vocals ore considerably more prominent, and much better, than the previous albums; but it is not enough to detract from the fact that Chris isn't as good as he is on the previous releases.
Strangely, the real star of the show on this album is arguably Dom Howard, while in previous albums he has taken more of a back-seat role he truly makes his talent obvious here. His galloping drumbeat in Knights of Cydonia fits right into the whole cowboy image Muse have in the song, while in Map Of The Problematique he provides a beat which, while keeping the rhythm of the song, has a sort of disorganized feel to it. As well as those two major drumming highlights he has a few awe-inspiring fills on the album, most notably on Assassin before Matt hits the distortion, Dom lets fly with an amazing drum fill
However, typically, any flaws in a Muse album will have the cracks covered up by the other two members, but this time, it's slightly different, while Chris doesn't make himself heard with his amazing bass riffs, it's Dom who saves the day on more than one occasion. But strangely and almost contradicting that previous statement, it's Matt who shines in a more impressive way, and while it's not their best release, it's most definitely not their worst.
In Genre - 4.5/5
Out of Genre - 3.5/5
With this album, there are two tracks equally deserving of this recognition. The first of which is Map Of The Problematique where Matt uses a strange CADGBe tuning, along with a delay pedal and accompanied by a rather relaxing piano riff. But whilst Dom and Matt shine on this track, Chris' bass is almost non-existent, which is a shame as this song could have parred with Citizen Erased if it had a bass riff which had enough presence to cut through everything else.
The other star track on this album is the magnificent Invincible, which blends Matt's Slide guitar, Dom's simple yet amazingly effective drumbeat and Chris' simple bass riff together. Matt sings what are possibly the most beautiful lyrics muse have ever written in the second chorus . and just when you think the entire song is going to follow in this rather dreamy state, the solo begins, and as much as I think Chris has deteriorated on this album, he still pulls off the best pre-solo riff I've heard on a Muse song. After which, the solo begins, and surprisingly, it's a two handed tap solo, which is awe inspiring. The last chorus begins and Matt sings it in a different fashion to the previous choruses.