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The Best Rock Album of 2006?
2006-07-14 21:06
by Scott Long

The English band, Muse, has been put in the Radiohead clone category since coming on the scene with their excellent "Showbiz" record. Their next release was the epic "Absolution", which is one of the TEN best CD's of this decade. "Absolution" was Radiohead, if they really wanted to be a killer rock band, instead of Kraftwerk for the new century that they've become. Well, Muse's newest effort, "Black Holes and Reservations" is the record that should push them past the Radiohead-clones status. "Black Holes..." is the most diverse, big sounding record since the heydays of Queen.

With cover art like something from a Pink Floyd or Alan Parsons Band record, Muse is not afraid to take elements from great art rock bands of the 70's, but they do it with the technology of today. Out of the gates is the first cut "Take a Bow", which is what I imagine Queen, in their prime, sounding like today. Brian May and Roger Taylor should have hired singer Matthew Bellamy to front their nostalgia act, as he is almost as bombastic as Freddie Mercury.

The second song is "Starlight." Glam rock meets electronica here and it's an example of how different "Black Holes..." is from "Absolution." Unlike Radiohead, Muse takes chances, but never forgets to write hooks. Up next is "Supermassive Black Hole", which is the first single off the record. Bellamy demonstrates a great falsetto on the song. While I wouldn't have chosen it as the first single, it's still as funky of a rock riff that I've heard in quite awhile.

"War of the Problematique" has a rhythmic hook right from the best of New Order and I can't wait to hear the re-mix of it, as a DJ could make this a dance floor jam. 4 songs into "Black Holes" and the band has went seamlessly from genre to genre, jumping around like Queen, T. Rex, Prince, and New Order were in the studio. Next is a beautiful ballad entitled "Soldier's Poem." While Bellamy is constantly compared to Thom Yorke, his voice has a register more like Rufus Wainwright, which really comes out in "Soldier's Poem."

Number 6 is "Invincible", which might be the hookiest thing on the record. Muse has opened for U-2 in the past and this song has a U-2 feel to it. "Assassin" would have been my choice as the first single, as it rocks as hard as anything Wolfmother has put out. While they have art-rock ambitions, Muse is a band that seems like they listened to their share of Iron Maiden, as well. "Assassins" shows the kind of musicianship that Rush would be proud of.

Unlike art rock bands of the 70's, Muse is capable of being funky. "Exo-Politics" proves this point, as it has a groove featuring a crunchy wah-wah guitar sound. Like many songs on "Black Holes", it features a chorus with harmonies that drip with Queen's "Night at the Opera" sound. I mention this because the following song, "City of Delusion" is Muse's "Bohemian Rhapsody", starting with acoustic guitars, then on to an Eastern mystical groove, which blend into strings off of a Goo Goo Dolls ballad, only to take on Mexican horns. (Take a breath, phew.) Bellamy vocals are spectacular on "City of Delusion", especially combined with producer Rich Costey's crystal clear sonics. Not only is "Black Holes and Perversions" the best record of 2006, it's the best sounding release of the year, as well.

Number 10 is "Hoodoo", which is the kind of dramatic type of opera that few will attempt in rock music. It sounds like Jeff Buckley backed by a rock band led by Ennio Morriconne. The closing track is the epic type needed to close such a huge sounding record. "Dark Side of the Moon" keyboards, heavy metal drums, Queen choruses propel "Knights of Cydonia." It's the kind of song a band like Darkness could only dream of making."

If you're not familiar with Muse, they are considered in Europe to be one of the best live acts to see. While they've been headlining amphitheatres across the world, they are virtual unknowns in the US. I suspect "Black Holes and Reservations" will change that.

2006-07-15 04:07:36
1.   Suffering Bruin
The last paragraph applies to me--I'm not familiar with them, or wasn't until I streamed their music from their website.

A rock band that rocks. What a concept. You've got one convert at least, Scott. Thanks...

2006-07-15 07:15:08
2.   TFD
"Unlike Radiohead, Muse takes chances,..."

Just when you thought you'd read it all...Radiohead doesn't take chances?? Wow, Scott, you may be the first person to write on rock in years to have that take. Sure "Hail" is 3/4 years old, but..."Myxomatosis" not taking chances?

You, my friend, need to get past "The Bends" and "OKC" and the must-be-from-punk-influence in order to be great or cutting edge.

2006-07-15 08:08:03
3.   vockins
These songs sound like Toyota ads.
2006-07-15 09:33:24
4.   Scott Long
In regards to post 2, I was going to respond by starting it off with "listen up, jackass", but then I realized it was my good buddy TFD, so I decided to be more restrained. Please read the whole sentence.

"Unlike Radiohead, Muse takes chances, but never forgets to write hooks."

Radiohead has forgotten to write music that can be enjoyed by anyone not in their fanbase. (In other words, where be the hooks?) I admire artists who just don't preach to the choir, but want to rock the masses. This doesn't mean you have to be a sell-out, it just means you have to try to not be so stridently caught up in just pleasing yourself.

There is a fine line between being a sell-out and being a band making quality music for more than just the hipsters. In my mind, the greatest rock bands of all-time have done this. Radiohead and Pearl Jam had a chance to join this small group, but took a different way. It's their right, but I find it disappointing. Pearl Jam latest release is somewhat of a comeback, but it's hard to move back up the ladder, after disappointing so much of your past fanbase with less than tuneful tunes.

In regards to the Toyota ads comment, I'm not sure I know what that means, but I do thinks it funny. I will say that I've thought advertisers play cooler music in their commercials than what you hear on terrestial radio. (Nick Drake, Red House Painters, Ipod ads, etc.)

2006-07-15 14:46:03
5.   Voxter
I don't really listen to much music of current vintage that's made with a guitar, other than maybe Flaming Lips & The Mountain Goats, but you certainly make this sound interesting. I'll have to give it a shot.

On the whole, I find rock music to be tired and repetitive these days. Someone needs to come along and give it a good Sex Pistols-style kick in the ass.

2006-07-15 15:45:16
6.   TFD

Oh, you're right about that. I got to 'doesn't take chances', and skipped because I could care less if they write 'hooks'.....screw the masses I say.

Is the small group you're referring to Stones, U2, etc? 'Cus really Radiohead has 3 CDs that sold more than 1MM each. Not to bad for a band that doesn't sell out. Yorke's new CD, hardly a mainstream product, is doing boffo biz so far...but they'll never be U2 - - and really who wants them to be? The fact they are as popular as they are is a testament that incredible, bleeding/edge art can make it mainstream. (House/Deadwood/Marquez anyone.)

So really, what do you want? A more 'approachable' sound? Hell, that's what "Idioteque", "There There", and the like a forest of illusion and intellectual isolationism they always 'pander' with at least one song. 'Aint that enough?

So have you listened to the new Knopfler/Harris CD yet...I haven't heard your Muse yet, but this is my best of the year so far - - and will probably last the year at #1.

(Oops, just read "Rock Album"..."Roadrunning is not that for sure. Anyway...ALBUM)

2006-07-15 15:46:26
7.   TFD
And Radiohead is much more than just 'for the hipsters'. Again...see 3 CDs > than 1MM.
2006-07-15 19:58:35
8.   Scott Long
I agree with a lot of what you are saying, TFD, but my main point is about how they decided to get out of the game after OK Computer. I heard Michael Stipe talk about this on Charlie Rose a few years back. He said that he loves Radiohead and has got to know them, but he wishes that they would not turn their back on a more commercial sound. (paraphrasing)

Radiohead's first album, "Pablo Honey" was heavily influenced by U2. Did I want them to stay stuck in one place? No. To answer your question, I didn't them to want to be U2, but I hoped that they would want to be kings of the mountain, like the Stones, U2, Springsteen, etc. These artists during their prime wanted to be the biggest band in the world.

They are a band more for hipsters, now, as they aren't going to sell anywhere close to OK Computer again if they don't embrace more hook laden music. It's kind of like an athlete who doesn't live up to his potential. Doesn't make them a bad person, just a disappointment. Of course, many would argue this point.

2006-07-16 11:55:05
9.   TFD
When I say U2 or the Stones I was talking in terms of commercial success, not in the music sense.

In terms of wanting to be 'king of the mountain' I think Yorke would answer that he absolutely wants to be the best, and does every time he/they put out a CD. The difference I think is that you want him to factor in commercial success as part of 'being the best you can be'; and I don't know, but I bet he'd recoil from that in a heartbeat.

It's the age-old conflict for genius artists, but I hardly think that you can say they are a draft pick that hasn't lived up to their potential. To me they've refused to bend to the necessary elements of gaining REM/U2/Stones like success while being absolutely uncompromising to their particular muse (however you'd like to describe it.) And that my friend, is a rare feat; indeed.

BTW, I'm a hipster? Don't know about that...

And you seriously consider them a disappointment? Someday, maybe, I'll understand that.

2006-07-16 12:27:03
10.   Voxter
I consider Radiohead a disappointment because Thom Yorke does nothing but maunder in the voice of a dying coyote anymore.
2006-07-16 22:40:52
11.   Will Carroll
If we define hit by popular standards, this album will not be a hit. It should outsell "Absolution" in the US, but it's hard. You have to listen to this music. Funny, because the single "Supermassive Black Hole" could be sung by Justin Timberlake without much problem. If this were 1988 or even 1998, I think an MTV video that was as eye-catching as the cover (and it's Alan Parsons Project) would push this. Matthew Bellamy is saleable as a frontman and the live rep would help. This won't be on TRL and the summer will go for a second year without a real theme. Maybe Beyonce will recycle some more 70's horn riffs, pepper her street cred with Jay-Z, and dance provocatively enough to keep the 14 year old boys (and 34 year old men) watching. That's about all that's left of pop music, a dying sound killed by the fractionalization of the market and left with only the lowest common denominators or pandering, reality shows, and celebrity voyeurism. If video killed the radio star, who's going to kill the video star?
2006-07-17 20:45:13
12.   jwilson
I just wanted to throw out there that Muse's 2nd Album, Origin of Symetry, is also incredible. It is a bit more arty than Absolution but it really bridges the gap between Showbiz and Absolution. Great post Scott on one of my favorite bands.

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