|2. Apocalypse Please|
|3. Time Is Running Out|
|4. Sing For Absolution|
|5. Stockholm Syndrome|
|6. Falling Away With You|
|10. Butterflies and Hurricanes|
|11. The Small Print|
|13. Thoughts Of A Dying Atheist|
|14. Ruled By Secrecy|
Throughout, Matt Bellamy adds classical grace with his tinkling, rolling grand piano, all the while moaning and shrieking out his fear of decay, destruction and death, like a traumatised Gene Pitney. Indeed, aside from their classical leanings and clear kinship with the prog-rock likes of Queen and Rush (there are some outbreaks of metal here), Muse often draw on classic pop, employing lush 1960s-style arrangements. With "Blackout" they go even further, daring to conjure Bacharach's "Magic Moments". If there's a weakness here, it's that the songwriting remains inconsistent, but this is usually covered up by musicianship and studio wizardry that leave Coldplay languishing in Muse's dust. --Dominic Wills
I was completely bowled over by the force of 1999s Showbiz and the ability of singer Matt Bellamy to work himself into a frenzy over the course of 3 minutes. From that point on Muse knew they'd hit on a winning formula; Origin of Symmetry (2001) and now Absolution show no departure from this original sound.
"Apocalypse Please" is a daring opener and sets the scene for what could have been the most dramatic album of the year. I say could have been because with the advent of The Darkness, Muse may find themselves fighting it out for top spot in the rock opera stakes. It seems that understated isn't currently the order of the day in British music.
Absolution laughs in the face of subtlety. In fact most of the tracks would make an excellent soundtrack to any blockbuster suspense movie. There's no mistaking that Muse make it their aim to render as much conflict as possible in both their lyrics and instrumentals. Single "Time Is Running Out" is a great example of this. "You will squeeze the life out of me", he sings. We know how he feels. This album is not for the faint-hearted and should not be played in times of stress or emotional unease. I fear for the students locked away in their cold rooms crying out "I wanted freedom but I'm restricted, I tried to give you up but I'm addicted".
Bellamy has been compared to Rachmaninov. I wonder whether either of them would be complimented by this comparison, but it's certainly true that Muse are at their best when Matt is at the piano. "Butterflies and Hurricanes" demonstrates his undisputed talent excellently.
Muse demand a reaction and you have to admire that in a band. If you ignore the fact that these songs are probably just a vehicle for Bellamy to divulge his obsession with all that is dark and sinister, you're left with a number of finely crafted and very palatable songs. Don't be ashamed, embrace the melodrama! --Nikki Smith
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Absolution's general theme is that the world is going to end and we are all going to die. This is reflected on the opening power-surge of "Apocalypse Please", with its driving, almost military drums, and panicking cries of "This Is The End/The End/Of The World". "Apocalypse Please" won't have done much to convince you otherwise if you thought Muse were a tad over-the-top before, but, if the rest of the album is anything to go by, Muse, or at least enigmatic frontman Bellamy, seem perfectly happy to be seen as eccentrics.
The next track comes in the form of the album's most hook-laden track; "Time Is Running Out". A brilliantly catchy pop-rock track, with a bassline to die for, it doesn't break any new ground, for sure, but if it doesn't stick in your head for the next week or two, there's something wrong with you.
This is followed by the magnificent "Sing For Absolution". This sweeping mini-epic is both beautiful and tragic, and marks a real songwriting development from the band who once rhymed "Happening Soon" with "My Direction".
Next up is "Stockholm Syndrome". This is one of Muse's heaviest tracks, an out-and-out rock track that screams panic, desertion and loneliness like Thom Yorke on speed. Again, you will love it, or loathe it with a passion. The falsetto will either drive you to kill or transport you to someplace else. We're sure Muse would be happy with either.
After the explosive outro to Stockholm Syndrome, an acoustic track turns up to politely put all the pieces back together, in the form of "Falling Away With You". The beautiful simplicity of this track's introduction, with Bellamy's soft and saddened vocals over a simple acoustic guitar allows listeners to catch their breath before a typically Muse bridge leads to plenty of distortion and a bellowing chorus. It isn't the greatest track on the album, but serves as a nice breather before the next track hits you.
There's a brief electric interlude before the pumping and aggressive bassline of the shallow but wholly enjoyable "Hysteria" comes crashing down on you. It's heavy, it's loud and it knows it's got no substance ("I want it now/I want it now/Give Me Your Heart And Your Soul") but if this doesn't get you moving, nothing else on this album will.
As with the "Stockholm Syndrome"/"Falling Away With You" contrast, "Hysteria" is followed by "Blackout". A slowly-building and simmering track, this showcases Bellamy's vocals at their finest, and his songwriting at it's most sensitive, "This Life's Too Good To Last/And I'm Too Old To Dream".
The true highlight of the album is to be found in the next track; "Butterflies and Hurricanes" is the epitome of everything Muse are about. It's five minutes long. It's got a huge classical piano solo for a bridge midway through. It's absolutely ridiculous. But it's also incredible listening. You can't deny that Bellamy, Wolstenholme and Howard are three of the finest musicians of the 21st century, and this song, with its hopeful, simple and powerful message "You've got to change the world/And Use This Chance To Be Heard/ Your Time Is Now" could be applied to Muse themselves, now standing on the edge of huge success or to anyone who's ever felt downtrodden. It takes a few listens to appreciate just how much there is going on in this track, but it's most certainly the best thing Muse have done, even surpassing "Citizen Erased", Origin Of Symmetry's most memorable track.
Of course, with such an incredible centre-piece, one would expect Muse to stumble and lose this momentum for the rest of the album. Not so. "The Smallprint" is an aggressive burst of well-refined punk power that sees Bellamy almost spit his lyrics over a chunky bass line and roaring guitar riff. In the most polite, Devon-raised way, of course. This is followed by arguably the album's weakest track, "Endlessly", a simple, electronica-inspired love song which, while good in its own right, feels rather out of place in the context of Absolution. Muse should be applauded for trying something different, but, at 14 tracks long, Absolution really doesn't need any filler.
The closing two tracks seem well coupled. "Thoughts Of A Dying Atheist" returns to the guitar-led paranoia, "It scares the hell out of me/ When the end is all I can see" with an excellent sense of rhythm and driving pace. "Ruled By Secrecy" is a - whisper it - Radiohead-style tale of Government oppression, mundane working conditions and piano-led crooning. It's all pretty haunting stuff, and the moment where the piano hits its climax is particularly powerful.
When all's said and done, Muse have made an epic record. It's a rollercoaster of human emotion. It's equal parts loud and proud, equal parts sensitive and vulnerable. It is the end of the world, and a celebration of life on one flat, blue disk. It's a brilliant record. At times the scale of it is simply staggering. The thought that this was the brainchild of three incredibly talented Brits is something to be very proud of. Sure, it's not a perfect record. But Muse really can only go onto bigger, better, and perhaps sillier things from here.
Whether you choose to celebrate or loathe them for it is totally up to you.
The album opens with a short track, Intro, where you hear soldiers marching. In retrospect, this is the sound of the Nazi’s invading Poland as Muse decide to stand defiant for the following 50 minutes. I doubt many bands could title a song Apocalypse Please, yet sound as uplifting. The piano laden intro bears resemblance to Politik by Coldplay, not surprising when Chris Martin consulted Matt Bellamy during the recording of A Rush Of Blood To The Head. When Bellamy declares that "This is the end of the world" , it makes for a glorious, bounce around the room sing along. Only 5 minutes into the album and Muse have transformed themselves into the most astonishing band in Britain today. Once you hear this album, you’ll see what I mean. Butterflies and Hurricanes sees Muse hit mantra like levels with Bellamy repeatedly singing “Best, got to be the best” but having the feel of New Born to it. An almost trance like riff bubbles below the surface, begging to be let loose like Bliss, but restrained by tight drumming and highly skilled orchestration.
To their credit, Muse aren’t afraid of their heroes. Time Is Running Out is tied to the late Jeff Buckley with its piano interlude bearing a similarity to Nightmares By The Sea. Rachmaninov is stamped all over Blackout, probably the finest piece of pseudo classical music you’ll find by a modern artist who isn’t named Jason Pierce. Hysteria contains a riff Tom Morello would be proud of before hitting one of the guitar solos which induces an indescribable euphoria. But whereas RATM get angry and sometimes sacrificed the song for the message, Muse don’t. “Take all you need, and I’ll compensate your greed with broken hearts.” Zach De La Rocha would like to claim the line from Tsp, but he can’t.
Muse have hit a new level. They’ve produced an album so deep, pure and mind blowing that, to borrow a line from Thoughts Of A Dying Atheist:
"It scares the hell out of me"
Muse are basically a guitar three piece. Chris Wolstenholme (bass) and Dominic Howard (drums) are an excellent rhythm section: they make sure that Muse's music always rocks hard (compare with pretty-but-drippy Coldplay, for example, and you will see what I mean). But what sets the band apart is the extraordinary Matt Bellamy.
The little s.o.b. can play the keyboards and the guitar and sing up a storm too. Musicians everywhere gnash their teeth in jealousy at this sort of raw talent. On a couple of tracks in this album he wails an E over top C - out of the range even of the most demanding tenor arias. OK, it is hardly bel canto, but in the overblown but glorious Muse mix, it works. Chuck in some virtuoso guitar work and great deal of mucking about with arpeggiators and you have a instantly identifiable and distinct sound.
Matt is evidently in love with romantic composers from the turn of the century, great music if not always in perfect taste. I like to think that Rachmaninov would approve of the results. Muse are often described as "prog rock". But I hated the prog rock of the 1970s and I love this. Emerson, Lake and Palmer, for example, aped the music of composers like Mussgorsky. But the result was flaccid pretension spread out over interminable double albums. In contrast, Muse write tight, intelligent songs with good chord progressions. But you can bang your head to the result with as much enthusiasm as to anything by AC/DC.
If I had to moan about something, it would be the lyrics, although even these have improved since the last Muse album "Origins of Symmetry". The lyrics to Stockholm Syndrome (the brilliant mushroom-fuelled video of which is easy to find on the Internet) almost make sense and even scan. If Muse ever learn to write words as well as they write music they will truly become a band for the ages.
Muse make rock music for the intelligent. This is a rare thing, so more power to them. I hope the dynamic Mr Bellamy and his mates achieve their evident ambition to conquer the musical universe. On the basis of this album, they deserve all the success they are now getting.
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