So, just how bombastic, overblown, wilfully obscure, magnificent, portentous, histrionic, eccentric and mental is Muse’s new record? Well, there’s a moment, as ‘Hoodoo’ morphs into epic finale ‘Knights Of Cydonia’, when a piano that sounds like it’s heralding the destruction of the universe gives way to the sound of galloping horses. Horses! It’s as if the Four Horsemen themselves have come from the underworld by the closing seconds of track 10. Then there’s laser guns, explosions and sirens before a choir of deathly damned begin a dreadful, unearthly wail. It’s The Book Of Revelations gone rock, and it’s the most overblown thing in the world. Except it’s not this world: Cydonia is the region of Mars where evidence of pyramids and oceans are the best clue to prove there was life there once. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Albion anymore…
Barking stuff, obviously, but why does music have to be so serious, so authentic? Rock is the only artform where authenticity is held supreme – more important than moving or provoking you. It’s as if the whole rock canon has been assembled by a committee of sociologists rather than hedonists, madmen and geniuses. When did using the imagination become a crime?
Muse are classic whipping boys for the Keeping It Real campaigners, having never written songs about bouncers, waiting for taxis or fancying girls on dancefloors. Why bother with, say, the shonky bits of Sheffield when you’ve got the entire cosmos to sing about? Take the first single. It’s the one with a daring electro shuffle, like Kylie grooving with a goth Prince. It’s called ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ and its the most serious and hilarious musical moment of the year. Muse may have been inspired to write this by dancing to Franz in New York clubs, but they’ve made a classic of their own; the sort that Marilyn Manson would make if he were half as subversive as he thought he was. It has, suffice to say, scared some of the fanboys who can happily talk about the multiple ways the world may end, but can’t quite stomach talk of singular lust. They do, however, grasp the, er, gravity, of this Supermassive Black Hole: Muse have changed.
The sexy shimmy-fuck-yeah sound of ‘SMBH’ is unique. Elsewhere they’re evolving in other ways. There’s the sound of ‘Enjoy The Silence’-era Depeche Mode electro (‘Map Of The Problematique’) and a smoky Frank Sinatra croon that quotes the opera song ‘Ave Maria’. And this time not all the pianos sound like they’re falling into hell. Some, in fact, could grace a Keane album. ‘Starlight’ has that tinkly piano melody and could – whisper it – be a love song. A love song about black holes, revelations, the end of the world and that sort of thing. Meanwhile, ‘Invincible’’s military drumroll rhythm is topped by Matt Bellamy’s best Tom-from-Keane impression until, at three minutes 51, there’s the familiar shrill guitar histrionics, as the slumbering Muse juggernaut wakes and advances like it’s rolling over Chaplin’s podgy face. You can practically hear his head burst like a watermelon.
Elsewhere, it’s business as (un)usual. There’s the raybeam guitar arpeggios, the doomy pianos and the multi-tracked, Queen-like vocals that all bring to mind a thousand 100ft Matt Bellamies stomping down your street, turning buildings to dust with a single sonic blast. It all hurtles towards the aforementioned ‘Knights Of Cydonia’, the first US single; as huge as ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ or anything they did before. Its galloping rhythm has the same headlong exhilarating thrills of great metal epics like Led Zeppelin’s ‘Achilles Last Stand’ and Iron Maiden’s ‘Run To The Hills’.
Muse have made a ridiculous, overblown, ambitious and utterly brilliant album, with more thrills than their previous three put together, which, in an alternative universe, would leave them at the end of an epic lineage connecting the greatest bands of all time: Queen, Roxy Music, Ziggy (not his mere human form of Bowie), ABC, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Adam And The Ants and Queens Of The Stone Age. In this universe of Dadrock authenticity, they’ve made a record with enough power and ambition that it might just rewrite that particular rulebook. Whichever way, ‘Black Holes & Revelations’ will slay you.