Muse – Black Holes and Revelations (2006)

…mustn’t mention Radiohead, mustn’t mention Radiohead, mustn’t mention Radiohead…

Space disco? Can it even exist? Nay, should it even exist. No, it shouldn’t. Hell, according to some, if it isn’t 2 and a half minutes long, sloppy, with no regard for technique or craft, and about the “plight of the working classes”, “life on the streets” or, conversely, making bald political statements, it’s grandiose and unnecessary.

Why should art be necessary? Why should it be concise? Why, pray, shouldn’t it be technically wonderful? OK Computer got all those wonderful plaudits, and it was a huge, dense, virtuosic masterpiece. Damn, mentioned Radiohead. Don’t worry though, no imitators here. Muse have pretty much rid themselves of the comparison now, simply because, in my view, they never really sounded that much like Radiohead in the first place. Sure, Showbiz and The Bends share some stylistic similarities, and Origin Of Symmetry, in some places, had a little of the OK Computer about it, but could this not also be attributed to a shared listening by the bands themselves? Say, a little Pink Floyd? A little Queen? A little Led Zeppelin? (who else is the inspiration for the riff that finishes off this intergalactic megajourney?) People seem to forget that bands don’t just follow each other – they listen to all kinds of stuff, and growing up in roughly the same time period will increase the likelihood of a shared musical background. After all, there are only so many directions commercial music can go (and yes, Radiohead are commercial. If they weren’t, why sell records? Why play V Festival?)

So, the record. The meat and bones of a band’s image, the music itself, man. Well, it’s certainly different. Officially, the first we heard of this record, apart from the band playing certain tracks in an unfinished manner on tour, was the Supermassive Black Hole single. Doth mine ears deceive me? Funk? Fuzz bass? “I thought I was a fool for no-one, but baby I’m a fool for you”? Not exactly what you’d expect from the chaps proclaiming the Armageddon on the last record. We still get the journey into outer space, we still get the cosmic guitar playing, riffs laden with delay (Map of the Problematique), Rachmaninov “homages” (Hoodoo) and gargantuan riffs (Assassin, Knights Of Cydonia), but is that a major-key love song I hear? Starlight sounds like Keane! Well, Keane with very large cojones.

You know that Muse want to be the missing band touring with Floyd and Queen. There’s the Hipgnosis front cover, for a start. There’s the Spanish guitars, the mariachi trumpets, the huge, huge, stadium ready love song that is the wonderful Invincible. The sonic textures and the space in the sound, the restrained sense of emotion (yes, it is restrained, for Muse, like so many other grandiose British bands hold back their emotions and express it via musical wizardry. Somewhere behind that facade, a heart beats behind Pink Floyd’s Wall, somewhere, on an island in Avalon, Yes had soul) all remind me of the better moments of Dark Side Of The Moon, or Wish You Were Here – small explosions of real grit (Money, Welcome To The Machine) are echoed here: Take A Bow is pretty plain in it’s anti-war/American/Bush/political stance, and Soldier’s Poem, their best ‘little’ song, as I’d class things like Unintended, Map Of Your Head or Nature_1, just melts one’s heart.

Back to the bombast, the hugeness, the monolithic glory of the sound. I want to blast this out of the external speakers on my intergalactic pimp-mobile, cruising along the asteroid belt, picking up Martian chicks and taking them to see the Supermassive Black Hole (from a safe distance, of course). You can imagine it soundtracking a good movie of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. The palette has expanded. It’s like Ennio Morricone on Mars, Led Zeppelin without Tolkein (their under-rated fifth member?) or Pink Floyd with balls. Exo-Politics has their best guitar solo since Darkshines. In fact, why not, it’s their best guitar solo, period. There is no low point on this record. Unlike Absolution, with some dud tracks (why not just stop at Butterflies and Hurricanes, and make Armageddon a short one?), every song hits you in various places, and the album doesn’t drag. If they keep the pattern going, the next one will be a difficult expression of their next step, and then they’ll make record 6, and against all odds, it’ll be even better.

Radiohead can fiddle with electronica, pretend they’re Aphex Twin and emote in a broken-glass, opaque kind of way. I’m betting that in terms of sheer fun, spectacle and raw power, Muse are going to blow them away. These three aren’t the imitators. They’re the competitors.

8/10

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