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.