on 7 January 2005
Muse remain the ultimate acquired taste. Bombastic, over-dramatic and often progressive in style, listeners usually decide to hate them with a passion, or pronounce them the greatest thing in the history of the world. Absolution is their third studio album, and while it's clear it will appear to more people (It seems to shed Origin Of Symmetry's raw edge), there is no sign that Muse are about to settle down and become complacent. Even if you do hate them.
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.
on 1 March 2004
Absolution is a really terrific record by a top flight band. The fact that Muse have generally lost out at the Brits and other award ceremonies to retro-rockers the Darkness is just another sad instance of the British love of mediocrity.
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.
on 8 October 2003
All of the above and so much more!!
For people that are already fans of Muse's individual style and enthusiasm for their art, then they will be pleased to know that Absolution is as good an improvement on Origin of Symmetry as Origin was on Showbiz. And Showbiz was fantastic in its own right.
If you are contemplating buying a Muse album for the first time then please do not hesitate, I don't think that there is any way that you can be disappointed. The way that Muse combine their exhilarating guitar rifts with classical and electro pop samples is truly awesome and unparalleled.
True enough that Muse's style is slightly different in this album with an overall more mellow sound and at first it takes a little getting used to but that does not detract from the fact that this is the best album that this inspiring band has produced.
Definitely the best album I have bought this year, and for some time before that too. I promise you wont be disappointed......
on 9 September 2003
I was delighted to get this album prior to its commercial release, and so far I must confess it's the best thing I've heard this year. It truly is the spawn of its predecessors. The 'Radiohead imitators' from Showbiz don't collide with the revelation of Origin Of Symmetry, they marry them and have babies! The union of these style is shown no better than Thoughts Of A Dying Atheist, which sounds like a wonderful combination of Plug In Baby and Sunburn.
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"
Apparently the third time was the charm -- Brit-rock band Muse's third album was the one to break out in the US, and solidified their position in the UK. "Absolution" is definitely a dark little gem -- the songs focus on deterioration and lost love, set against classical-sounding rock.
"And pull us through/And this is the end/This is the end of the world." An ominous piano crashes into "Apocalypse," which is only one of several songs with a deathly edge, such as the epic "Time is Running Out" or the soaring "Butterflies and Hurricanes" ("Fights and battles have begun/Revenge will surely come/Your hard times are ahead..."). Even the most intimate song is the thoughts of a dying atheist, afraid of what is -- and isn't -- after death.
But Muse is also focusing on love. Dead loves, lost loves, and the idea of loves that can't or won't last out. The delicate, bittersweet "Sing for Absolution" is perhaps the purest example of this -- a love song for a woman who is apparently dead. Other songs focus on the mix of love and hate, and the feeling of love crumbling away.
That focus of death and love -- or both together -- is what makes "Absolution" so compelling. Muse is often written off as a Radiohead clone, but their sound is more complex, and their focus is darker. A riff here and there echoes of Radiohead, and Matt Bellamy's voice echoes that of Thom Yorke. But that's about all.
There's nothing spacey or eerie about Muse's brand of rock. Instead, they opt for a soaring, rich sound, with orchestral melodies. It's obvious that Bellamy has studied not just rock, but classical as well -- he integrates the epic quality of classical music into a melody written for guitar, bass, piano and drums. At times the sound is so massive -- not loud, but massive -- that it sounds like the speakers are going to explode.
With music like that, one would think that Bellamy's voice would get lost in the mix. Surprisingly he doesn't -- he's no Jose Carreras, but his voice has gained new maturity, able to be a standard rock voice one moment, and then a pure choral vocalist the next. He brings across the heartbreak and anguish in the songs with startling purity, as if he means every word.
In fact, those songs are the one weak spot -- they aren't as big or as rich as the music, which makes them sound a bit tepid. They're not bad. But they simply don't measure up to the musical genius. So ignore the words, and just listen to Bellamy and the music.
The orchestral wall-of-sound has been Muse's trademark, and they are in fine form in their third album. Beautiful, rich and heartbreaking, this is one to keep.
on 29 September 2003
Being a Muse fan ever since Showbiz debuted in the states in late 1999, I have been appalled at their lack of popularity here. The fact that Origin of Symmetry and Absolution aren't released in America is a shame, considering these two albums are vastly superior to the majority of American bands around. But...on to the review.
While Origin of Symmetry is a very manic and wild-sounding album, it seems that Bellamy and Co. have found maturity on Absolution. While it is proven that they can still rock to high heaven on tracks like Stockholm Syndrome, Hysteria, and Thoughts of a Dying Atheist, Muse finally show the perfect blend of modern alternative rock and classical music with such tracks as Blackout and Endlessly. This is such a great album, I don't really have the words to describe it. So big sounding and triumphant on every track, including 'Intro' and 'Interlude'. This very well could be album of the year as far as I'm concerned, and it will be in my regular album rotation for quite some time, along with the new Elbow disc (ALSO UNRELEASED IN THE STATES!) Just goes to show...U.S. record labels have no clue what they're doing anymore..
Great album, HIGHLY recommended!
The first Muse album I heard was BH&R which I gave 5 stars simply for the overblown cheek of the thing. Well I have to say this album is even better. It is the same eclectic synthesis of virtually every rock genre you can name, prog, metal, punk, grunge, britpop, stadium rock, new miserabalism (radiohead, coldplay) but has more subtlety. I particularly like to emotion of Sing for Absolution, the sturm und drang of Stockholm Syndrome, the gentle funk of Endlessly and the upbeat terror of Thoughts of a Dying Atheist.
If you like rock music, you'll like this album. Fully Recommended
on 23 September 2003
Gone are the Radiohead comparisons that dogged them in their early days and still nagged away during the Origin Of Symmetry era - Muse are like no other band out there. Awash with walls of strings as much as walls of guitars, the Devon trio have created a record of variety and above all quality that belies their relatively young age.
Much has been made of Matt's classical leanings, mainly his love of the Russian Sergei Rachmaninov's Romantic fireworks, and influences are clear throughout, whether you look at the thumping piano line in 'Apocalypse Please' or the rattling cadenza in the towering 'Butterflies and Hurricanes'. Writing as a band, the arrangements are tight, but there are no signs of giving up on the rock opera that worked so well on the exceptional Origin Of Symmetry. But anyone looking for the Muse that penned New Born and Plug In Baby have not been forgotten - 'Stockholm Syndrome' is a candidate for single of the year, with an overpowering opening riff and a soaring melody layered with 'strings and epic stuff' as Matt himself would put it. Second single 'Time Is Running Out' employs a sinewy bassline and crunchy power chords that would not be out of place on Showbiz, and is also one of the few tracks on the album not to employ a piano, an instrument that Matt seems to favour on this record. If you want Muse at their most explosive best, though, try 'Butterflies and Hurricanes', which may start innoculously but soon builds throughout its five minutes into almost a piano concerto. Prepare to be blown away by Matt's ridiculous solo, underlying his stature as the most consummate rock musician on the planet at the moment.
But they can do slow as well, and in greater quantities than either album before. 'Blackout' smacks more of a Puccini or Verdi barcarolle than twentieth-first century pomp rock, until you hear Matt's buzzing guitar climb over the swooning strings, and 'Sing For Absolution' revisits Showbiz to a degree, with echo all over the place and a wonderful final verse, where Matt cries out that 'our souls won't be exhumed'. Rather.
There are weaknesses, as there are in all albums, all to be found in the second side. I'm not a huge fan of 'Endlessly', which seems to lack direction, and 'Falling Away With You' seems to place effects ahead of a stand-out melody, but there is so much quality on this twelve-track CD (not including the Intro and Interlude) that you can overlook these tiny flaws in favour of a generally exceptional record. And if you like this album, why not try out Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto, or even the monumentally challenging Third.
Those readers who have read my 25-album list and other reviews will know that I have very ecelectic tastes but that the emphasis in my listening is on the 60s and 70s end of the spectrum. With contemporary stuff I tend to listen to huge amounts on the radio/internet/TV and pick out the very best to buy on CD. Here was something different.
My brother has been a Muse fan from the beginning and has seen them live. I never really got round to listening to them properly until recently when a pupil played an extract from 'Absolution' in an end of term lesson when I asked my year 9's to share their favourite music with the class. After this I finally picked up a copy of the album in the HMV sale (still not as cheap as Amazon!)and, while the family were watching TV put my Sennheisers on and entered the world of Muse. I was hooked from the beginning. What an incredible album. This is a band who use the weight in their sound for real emotional communication, balancing it with moments of intimacy and reflection. Their lyrics have depth, and their songs are beautifully structured. Every moment feels like it was naturally meant to be and yet, even after several listenings, this album never feels predictable or uninteresting. The performances have a live feel to them and some of the keyboard work is superb. Being a classical pianist myself, and having played Rach 2, I was most impressed by the quite beautiful playing in the doctored quote from that concerto at the end of one of the tracks.
Anyone who compares Muse to any other contemporary band such as the Darkness, Coldplay etc, is really missing the point. Where The Darkness represent a big of glam rock fun and Coldplay the mainstream rock fraternity, Muse choose to make their music a work of art - something substantially higher than the contemporary music norm.
An incredible experience and an album which I would recommend to anyone.
on 27 September 2003
Muse have come a long way. From their ok, but wrongly dismissed as "sub-Radiohead" first album, Showbiz, they have had 2 suberb albums, Origin of symmetry with its crunching riffs, powerful falsettos and moments of pure bliss which kept pulling me back for more, and Hullaballo, with its live versions of tracks from Origin of symmetry which blow you away and a collection of b-sides, which are great in their own right.
And they have returned with Absolution, and absolute gem of a record. Right from the first track, starting with the sound of marching, and continuing into a powerful tune, with Matt playing piano rather than his equally astounding axe in the background, you can tell this is going to be something special. Only his trademark vocal sound could pull of the lyrics "this is the end of the world", with anyone else it would just sound ridculous. Standout tracks include Stockholm Syndrome, an absolute monster with almost too many riffs and the equally heavy Hysteria witha buzzing bass line similar to latest single Time is running out. But some of the tracks make you realise how different it is to previous albums. It has a much more subtle sound,more classical, Matt's classical training shows through, Blackout sounding very Russian, with its wonderful strings in the background, and Matt showing a more delicate side to his ranged voice, making this along with the darker sounding Ruled by secrecy the most beautiful song on the album.
Whilst some bands just churn out the same old rubbish and go stale, Muse have evolved, and this album shows just how talented they really are.