I was intrigued by the pre-release claim that this album would be more 'upbeat' than the last three, and so was slightly surpised when, barely a minute into the first track, I found myself being informed over and over again by Matt Bellamy that I would burn in hell. Perhaps, I pondered, this is Muse's ironic take on 'upbeat'.
But while you could never describe any Muse track as particularly 'cheery', there is a brighter sound to the album as a whole, particularly the second half. Indeed, I've taken to skipping the first track as a matter of course, not because it's a bit down, but because it's actually the weakest thing here.
Much has been said of the band's new 'direction', and whilst 'Supermassive Blackhole' (the first UK single) and 'Knights of Cydonia' (the first US single) are, for different reasons, a departure from earlier work, they still, to my ear at least, sound like Muse. Afterall, 'Bohemian Rhapsody' sounds nothing like 'Somebody to Love', but they both sound like Queen.
Indeed, it's good to hear them flexing themselves in this way; it would have been all too easy for them to simply knock out a poor man's 'Absolution', and whilst there are moments that sound like they could have been on an earlier album, there are also bits that sound like they should have been on the soundtrack to 'Kill Bill'. It's up to the individual to decide if this is a good thing or not, but I suspect that any album that gets fans mumbling about the band 'changing' is usually a sign that it's worked.