Real-Time Review: Black Holes and Revelation by Muse
Take a Bow: Hey, and welcome to my review of the seminal Muse classic Black Holes and Revelations. While it’s not considered their best album, it’s probably the one with their most recognisable songs on it (Starlight, Knights of Cydonia, and Supermassive Black Hole), and it kind of needs a review if only on the credit that it’s the album I learnt to play bass to. Muse also have the dubious honour of being the first and only band I played “live” in that brief, misguided period when I thought I was a good enough bassist to be in a prog-metal band (I apologise to all involved). We played Hyper Music, which, as far as the bassline is concerned, is pish easy.
We’re starting with Take a Bow, which I don’t particularly like. It is a good opening, but it’s not got the musical balls of New Born from Origin of Symettry or Uprising from Resistance, and instead relies on Matt Bellamy’s deeply questionable lyrics. It’s always better than I remember it, but never brilliant. At four minutes, it’s not quite short of enough to be punchy and not quite long enough to be epic.
Starlight: Probably the most traditionally single-esque of all the singles Muse have ever produced, Starlight is sort of addictive. I understand why this wasn’t the opening track, because it doesn’t sound quite enough like the rest of the album to be a true opening statement, but I secretly love Starlight. With a distinct lack of vocal buggery that does Bellamy’s voice some real credit, it’s deceptively simple and pretty brilliant.
Supermassive Black Hole: Anyone who doesn’t like this is lying out of their arse. I don’t care how many times you’ve heard it, or how much you think it’s overplayed: this is a Modern Rock Masterpiece, with capital letters. That riff is instantly cool and sexy like lingerie, and the vibrato, falsetto vocals don’t belong here but somehow do. This is what music snobs bump and grind to. Not that I’d know.
Map of the Problematique: The song with probably the most Muse title ever (and it has some fucking stuff competition, between the Exogenesis Symphony and MK Ultra), it always takes me till about a minute in until I remember why I like this track. The slow build is good, but not immediately engaging; it takes till the chorus really kicks in till Map makes proper sense. It’s probably technically one of the better songs on the album, with an irresistible kick upwards that fills up the four-minute runtime with ease and makes you think Bellamy is saying more profound things than he is (ever looked up the lyrics for Sing for Absolution? He makes a habit of absurd pseudo-profundity, but he can pull it off because he looks like a giant human Gonzo from the Muppets playing a sparkly guitar).
Solider’s Poem: I’m really unhappy that I know all the words to this song. I get why it has to be here in terms of structure and balance, but this doesn’t come across the same way Cancer does in The Black Parade. It’s not a soft, emotional break from the breakneck rock, it’s an unbearably pretentious two minutes that proves that you shouldn’t be able to hear whatever Muse are singing about if you want to like them in a serious way. It’s just dull.
Invincible: My excuse for liking this song is eighties pop rock. This track is really a bit too much in most ways, but utterly, unbearably charming in others. I think what sells it is how earnest everything about this track sounds; the stripped-back drums (thanks, Dominic), the slippery guitar riff, the vocal line. It feels like they actually mean it, and that can’t be overstated in it’s importance.
Assassin: I honestly forgot this song was on the album, and punched the air in delight when the first hyper-speed picking kicked in prior to Exo-Politics. This is probably the song most akin to actual metal on the album, packing frantic bass and guitar against a drum line that doesn’t particularly seem to have been actually coordinated in any way. I’ll admit that the actual song doesn’t live up to that blistering opening, but it’s still pretty excellent.
Exo-Politics: My brother spent an arduous two hours patiently teaching me to play this on the bass guitar, and I owe him for it, because I never would have given this supremely satisfying number a proper listen otherwise. I mean, the lyrics have descended into full, passionate conspiracy theory territory here with little to no apology, but that first post-chorus with the solo over a punchy, simple riff is delicious. For once, Muse didn’t go too far out, pulling back just before the song got away from them, and it makes for one of the better songs on the album.
City of Delusion: I want you to imagine me standing on a cliff in a storm and a big jacket singing this song, because that’s exactly what I picture whenever I hear this track. Hurrah for this great bass line, which pulls the verses out of sounding too bare. Hurrah for the ridiculous strings and brass, which turns this into the song that would fit most comfortably onto Resistance (which is, controversially, my favourite Muse album, and all of that is about United States of Eurasia). Hurrah for that catch-your-breath chorus, a giant, lusty fuck-you to anyone who thought Muse just did straight rock. Hurrah for City of Delusion. I could well sing this live. Easy. No bother. Probably.
Hoodoo: Urgh, this is probably my least favourite song on the album, mainly because I love the first bit so much and it descends it measured levels of dull. I don’t know if I’m just not keen on Muse’s slower stuff, but surely you can’t make a case for this song compared to the rockier tracks on the album? There’s nothing wrong with it, per say- I mean ,Bellamy has a luscious voice, and he knows how to put a song together, but it doesn’t have the click that the rest of Black Holes does.
Knights of Cydonia: Hey, do you remember having any problems with this album? Because I fucking don’t any more. I mean, come on: they released this, a six-minute concept prog-rock album closer as a fucking single? That’s as audacious as it gets, and they needed a track as instantly infectious as Knights to pull off that proviso. Before even a word has been sung, you’ve had lasers, a sickeningly good bass line, and trumpets. And then the rest of it happens, and it’s just unarguably great: you can accuse it of pretentiousness. or utter silliness, but you can’t accuse it of not being unbelievably good fun. This is how you close an album, and convince everyone that that album was worth listening to till the end.
Out of Ten: 8
In a Sentence: It’s got it’s stinkers, but this is audaciousness in musical form and at it’s best it’s involving, entertaining, and brilliant.
Best Tracks: Exo-Politics, City of Delusion, Knights of Cydonia, Supermassive Black Hole
Worst Tracks: Hoodoo, Soldier’s Poem