2006. Nominated for a Mercury. #3 in the NME year-end list. #2 in Kerrang!, #2 in Q magazine. And the night does fall, the gravity begins to fail; And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them (Book of Revelation, Chapter 11, Verse 7). There’s no record of whether John the Revelator listened to Muse whilst penning the New Testament’s final, funkiest tome; let’s just say that I have my suspicions. Hieronymus Bosch was certainly a fan; the boys in the Enola Gay with their Hiroshima payload – they had Black Holes and Revelations spinning on the cockpit gramophone. “The sound was a little tinny, for sure,” pilot Colonel Paul Tibbets is quoted as commenting. “But combine the soundtrack with the weight of expectation our mission carried, then man – those vibes were kicking. What an adventure”.
One final quotation before we tuck into the detail of all this. “Black Holes and Revelations left me bereft of hope. It was as if I’d been dragged into the mist outside by the bootboys, and reminded in no uncertain terms as to the petty contours of my own mortality”. I’ll reveal the source of this at the end of the article; suffice to say, were we here to fling scorn at the Muse aesthetic, we might just have the tools to hand. Glancing at my notebook, the word proportionality stands out. Grandiloquence. Statement. Because this is an album of (theoretically) ambitious intent, and as such the methods through which it hits the listener require a precise calibration if we’re not to be scratching other phrases onto paper. Adjectives such as overblown, and pretentious, and preposterous, for instance. After all, it’s not as if I regularly claim that the first sign of a dodgy LP, over-earnest to the point of pomposity, is engaging Storm Thorgerson to do the artwork…
Track one: ‘Take A Bow’. And thy morbid angel will call forth his synth arpeggio, his flatulist chords and apocalypse vocal, and the twisted ones will danceth and grin as the fires burn (Book of Revelation, Chapter 27, Verse 12). Tracks two and three – singles ‘Starlight’ (And the Blessed One did tolerate with pain, then did smite him down for such polished prog irrelevance – Revelation 29:3) and ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ (And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, ‘Come and see’. And I beheld, and lo a black hole, sucking the energy from the good and the clean – Revelation 6:5).
And… okay; I’ll cease with the bible shenanigans round about now. It’s not a doorstop I’ve read from beginning to end. Just as I’ve never been able to venture beyond the first three items on Black Holes and Revelations – at least until this week, when repeated calls from research made their presence felt. Because the opening twelve minutes are pretty painful going. No life, no light, no spirit. Not that life, light and spirit are necessarily prerequisites for fabulous songcraft, but there does need to be something for the listener to cling on to, be it intrigue, nuance, fun (never forget the fun) or simply a dumb, meaty hook to kick off each chorus. Instead, despite (or even because of) the attention lavished over the material, there’s little sense of momentum. True; ‘Take A Bow’ does build and build and build towards crescendo, yet the pay-off is so mono-textual as to sound complacent through such dull décor. A predictability of bloated proportions, banks of synth and discordant guitar so condensed as to ring familiar as a generic setting from a music software package.
So I suppose the pertinent question is: does this record suddenly gain flight a third of the way through? With titles such as ‘Knights of Cydonia’, ‘City Of Delusion’, and my personal favourite – ‘Map Of The Problematique’ – you can already see where I’m headed with all this. I once suffered this misfortune of watching Christopher Nolan’s Inception – the type of dumb, pointless movie designed to convince the barely sentient that something profound is happening – and that’s exactly the feeling I get with Black Holes and Revelations. Grand statements of little substance, set alight without even token subtlety or self-awareness. Much of this is attributable to Matt Bellamy, fronting the band as if he’s some kind of visionary, wielding portentous lyric, dystopic themes and the tropes of world’s end dictum with his whiny voice and his joyless sincerity, all whilst aping the mannerisms of someone who genuinely believes the meaningless, hackneyed guff sprouting from his mollycoddled cakehole. As conspiracies unwind, will you slam shut or free your mind, or stay hypnotised? he asks on ‘Exo-Politics’ (possibly one of the worst songs ever to feature a theramin humming away in the background). Come ride with me through the veins of history. I’ll show you how God falls asleep on the job; lyrics from the afore-mentioned ‘Knights of Cydonia’ – as if anyone genuinely gives a shit.
In fact, ‘Knights of Cydonia’ is neatly representative of album as a whole, sounding as it does like a genuine pastiche. Muse reinterpreted as satirical endeavour. The type of stunt Queen would have pulled at their most coked-up and megalomaniacal (albeit sorely devoid of any of Freddie’s humour). Cue the changes in tempo, yet more arpeggios, oversized metal guitar riffs, trumpets in all the wrong places – even a freaking disco beat sponsoring the first two minutes…
And I could go on. Black Holes and Revelations; written when the band were holed-up in a castle, recorded with few of the usual limitations around studio time, and it tells. A record full of over-produced anthemic nonsense, in which the biggest flaw is its total lack of empathy. There are those that adore this LP (I understand that Inception has its fans, too), but that doesn’t even begin to expose how crass this all is.
That quotation above – of being reminded in no uncertain terms as to the petty contours of my own mortality – it’s one of mine; I’ll let you select your own passage from Revelations as a closing line.
Muse / Knights of Cydonia (Feed Me Remix) – as I’m in no way posting the original.