I struggled to write the first sentence of this review for about fifteen minutes.
Normally when writing a review, you have a couple of options with your opening line. It can give backing information on the album or band, perhaps it gives away the general theme of the record or even what you think of it.
This time, none of the previously tried and tested bylines were going to do this record justice.
I decided to go with an option that really cuts to the core, of the required mindset to listen to this record.
When listening to this album, you must throw everything you’ve ever known about Muse out a window, and enter your first couple of listens to this record, with an open mindset.
If you go into this album not expecting anything, you’ll come out of it very pleased.
That being said, it’s hard when reviewing any album, not to compare to back catalogues and other influences, so allow me to break my own rules.
In hitting the play button on this record, we’re greeted with Muse circa 2001. It’s everything that we loved about tracks like “Deadstar”, “Microcuts” and “Darkshines” all wrapped up until a beautiful little bundle. But you know what else we get? We get new Muse. It’s hidden. But it’s there. “Supremacy” captures all the epicness, all the naysayers shouting out about Queen references, everything. This could be one of Muse’s greatest moments.
But then again, so could the second track. And the third. “Madness” and “Panic Station” are probably the most powerful sonic revelations Muse have ever crafted. “Madness” is expertly down tempo as it builds anticipation within its epiphanic state.. Until in the last minute it explodes into this euphoric supernova of realisations. “I have finally seen the light/I have finally realised/I need to love” cries frontman Matt Bellamy.
He leaves that track, enticing his audience to “come with [him]”, openly into the next track which I think is Muse’s greatest moment. Move over Earth, Wind and Fire, the Bee Gees can piss off and even James Brown has got nothing on the funk and soul that this track dishes up for us. A driving bass line eases us unto the sassy vocals that Bellamy throws at us. Apocalypse is the order of the day as “chaos that defies imagination” is set to overwhelm us. There is some real Rage Against the Machine angst and punky guitar timbre on display throughout the piece, particularly in that melodic Matt Bellamy guitar solo. It’s when the brass section kicks in however, that the funk which roots this track
I reviewed “Prelude+Survival” pretty early on in its sonic life (within half an hour actually), so I won’t dwell on it too much. What I will say, however, is that amongst the record as a whole, it fits quite nicely. It’s not overly epic after the Prince level of funk that was “Panic Station” but it’s a fair throwback to The Resistance era Muse.
Bellamy calls for our trust in “Follow Me”, as the electronic influence which plays a large part of the record, really shines. It’s a real flashback to staples like “Starlight” and “Undisclosed Desires”, perhaps a less guitar driven “Bliss” too. It’s the perfect lead in to “Animals” which is without a doubt Muse’s answer to “Paranoid Android”. The down tempo, soft introduction, masks the true nature of this track which becomes more and more apparent as it progresses. Bellamy maintains the apocalyptic theme which runs through the record, comparing humanity to the track’s namesake.
“Explorers” is the delicate lament we expect to appear on Muse tracks where as “Big Freeze” is a step in the direction of a new influence. When listening to the track I couldn’t help but think of U2 and that nostalgic guitar tone they manage to weave into their records. “Save Me” is an interesting track as it marks the first time that bass guitarist Chris Wolstenholme takes lead vocalist duties. The band craft swirling, ever so slightly, syncopated tones which enter the realm of ambient artists. The way Bellamy shifts his voice on “Liquid State” is a marveling aspect of the record. Wait. Sorry, that’s Wolstenholme bringing a vocalist fight to Bellamy. Both of his tracks sound incredible, and disperse fervently any notion that Muse are all falsetto and guitar solos.
Double track “The 2nd Law” bookends the record with it’s orchestral focus. “Unsustainable” is, unfortunately, going to be forever known as Muse’s foray into dubstep, when it is much more than that. It’s a concept which shows, if anything, an organic interpretation on Skrillex’s mantle. The spoken word sampling is perfectly implemented into the track as it transcends into the final piece on the record “Isolated System”. This piano driven track is a clear showcase of Bellamy’s talent for composition as he continues the alternative sphere he crafted in the first half of the piece. Despite the two tracks obvious differences, there’s a clear thread here, with Muse not only dabbling in new territory, but expanding and exploring previously touched land.
My only criticism of this record is that I feel Muse chould have been less afraid to go the full bore and really make the kickstart the last minute of the track into oldschool Muse. “Explorers” takes faithful listeners back to Black Holes and Revelations’ most delicate moment, “Invincible” and “Big Freeze” to its shining moment “Map of the Problematique”, but where is is the old stuff? Where’s the shameless level of feedback and distortion we all fell in love with?
Well it’s back where we left it. In the first three records.
Instead we’re to greet the new Muse with open arms and, in all honesty, it’s hard not to.