Some bands improve with age. Some bands start off strong, then fizzle out. Some bands follow a parabolic trajectory arc of enjoyable quality.
Let’s talk about a couple of acts from that last category there, shall we?
What is it?
Black Holes and Revelations is the 2006 big hit record from Muse, three quarters of an hour of music spread over eleven songs.
How does it sound?
When will this sampler mix be over:
Why this pick?
I like individual songs from earlier and later Muse records quite well, and in fact certain of those songs I like better than nearly anything on Black Holes. But if I’m going to recommend an album to someone unfamiliar with the band’s works, it’s got to be this one. This is the crowd-pleaser. To be blunt: This one has “Starlight” and “Knights of Cydonia.”
Before this one, there’s a lot of diamonds-in-the-rough quality to the records. Great stuff is there to enjoy but you’ve got to want it enough to get through everything else.
After this one, I get a strong sense that the band has increasingly started to believe their press releases and disappear up their own backsides. There’s too much “too much,” basically.
(Yes, we’ll be exploring this theme again a bit next week.)
Which songs are the highlights?
“Starlight” got a lot of radio airplay for good reasons, and it holds up moderately well over a decade on. “Supermassive Black Hole,” “Assassin,” and “City of Delusion” are pretty darned good, too.
I can’t even explain why, but just know that “Map of the Problematique” is my all-time favorite Muse piece. Something about the sound and energy of it just gets me right where I live. I never tire of it and hope I never will.
The album closes with “Knights of Cydonia,” and it’s a ridiculous hoot of a piece. In a way it’s their riff on Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” except done as a six-minute trashy 80s sci-fi conniption fit of sheer lunacy. I adore it to pieces.
Which songs don’t work so well?
The record starts out with “Take a Bow,” which is… iterative, for lack of a better term. There’s a germ of a good musical idea in there but it’s so grating (presumably on purpose) that it’s almost impossible to really enjoy (presumably on purpose).
Midway through we get “Soldier’s Poem.” I’m sure it’s supposed to be snarkily meaningful but for me it just falls flat. This is probably a problem with me trying to enjoy more of Muse’s songs: All the clever wordplay goes in one ear and out the other! Whoopsie.
Right before the end of the album is “Hoodoo,” another experimental mostly-quiet piece with some louder bits and, no, just no.
Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?
It was almost The Resistance, the record immediately following Black Holes. They’re both solidly enjoyable entry points to the Muse catalog. (Purists will, of course, argue with me. Good thing I’m not a purist.)
Any final thoughts?
The remarkable thing about this album is that every song here swings for the fences in some fashion, even the quiet(ish) ones. Sometimes those swings catch nothing but air, striking out wildly. Sometimes the swings send the ball clean over the outfield fences and into the parking lot. (Sports metaphor! That’s relevant to my readership, right?) If nothing else, I have to admire Muse for going all-out. A band who did anything less couldn’t have recorded “Knights of Cydonia,” let’s be real.
That parabolic arc I mentioned at the start? Maybe it’s the weight of expectations, that everyone expects them to do more, bigger, pushier, edgier stuff every time. Two albums after Black Holes, we get The 2nd Law which is full of obnoxious dubstep-type ‘wub-wub-wub’ noises, which is great if you’re into that sort of thing, and Drones is just kind of grim and portentous, so at this point I can’t even work up any excitement about the new forthcoming record. Where’s the fun, guys?
Maybe they’ll prove me wrong, though. That’d be nice.