Muse
"Black Holes and Revelations"

(Warner Bros. Records 2006)Muse - Black Holes and Revelations

Sometimes record reviewers make mistakes and ask for records they have no business reviewing. I'm afraid that this is the case in this particular instance. While using Muse's Black Holes and Revelations as a coaster for his bottle of Sol, my friend Adam said that the cover photograph of said CD looked like that of a Pink Floyd album. After listening to the record, Muse sounds like an overproduced, underwritten mix of Radiohead, Metallica, Queen, and Wagner. The artists I've mentioned to this point represent exactly 0.0 percent of my record collection. My comfort zone in the realm of popular music is with acts such as The Replacements, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, and the immortal Memphis Jug Band -- the colorful outliers and true artists of the American musical tradition. And after all, which is a more necessary quality in today's record reviewer: a thorough knowledge of Radiohead and all the other sound-alike bands that followed, or an abiding love of the rhythm-and-blues acts on Atlantic Records in the 1950s? On second thought, don't answer that.

Was that enough self-indulgence for you? If not, keep reading. I will attempt to review the record now but I'm certain there are more diversions to follow. Black Hole in My Evening is one of those recordings that tries desperately to make a show of sonic variation but nonetheless sounds surprisingly uniform most of the time. A representative example is the second track, "Starlight," which is kind of a Radiohead take on Roy Orbison and probably the most tolerable track on the disc. It starts off with a not-too-frantic beat and a humming bass line, and there's a nice piano in one of the parts. (This band, being the conventionally unconventional band that they are, has an annoying habit of writing "parts," and not "verses," "choruses," or "bridges.") Then, out of nowhere, comes this screaming guitar in the next "part." Later on there's the return of the swirling organ that nearly caused me to have a seizure during the first track. Sonically there's too much going on here -- and metal guitars, back-up vocals, and those god-awful swirling organs are criminally overused throughout.

Insofar as Muse is interesting, it's in the sonic realm. Lyrically they're a joke, and a bad one at that. Take, for instance, the woefully titled "Supermassive Black Hole." This might have been a good song if someone else had written it. Innumerable classics have been penned about the irresistible woman who sucks a man down to the depths of despair; a guy named Sinatra made a career out of singing songs like that. But these guys, with the poetic sensibilities of ninth graders stuck on too much bad rock music, manage to drain most of the life out of this scenario. My least favorite line: "Superstars sucked into the super-massive."

Thematically this is largely an anti-war, anti-Bush record. In my last review for Pluginmusic.com, I wrote about an anti-war song from Old Crow Medicine Show's Big Iron World called "I Hear Them All." This song is remarkable in part because it vividly portrays tyranny, suffering, and rebirth, soothing our intense frustrations by appealing to the better angels of our nature. On Muse songs such as "Take a Bow," "Soldier's Poem," and "City of Delusion," all we have are very ordinary digressions by members of the younger, more cynical generation. Take this line from "Soldier's Poem:" "There's no justice in the world and there never was." Of course, there is some justice in the world, and there was some justice in the world too.

The fact that these guys are against the war makes me wonder if it wasn't such a bad idea after all.

I end with the first few lines of track six, "Invincible:" "Follow through/Make your dreams come true/Don't give up the fight/You will be all right/Because there's no one like you in the universe."

Was I being charitable when I said they have the poetic sensibilities of ninth graders?

One more thing -- I may not own every Radiohead album, but I know shit when I smell it.

D+

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