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Muse – ‘Black Holes & Revelations’ (Album Review)

Where do you go once you’ve gone over the top? After 2001’s gloriously preposterous “Origin Of Symmetry”, Muse answered this simple conundrum by going even more over the top with 2003’s spectacularly preposterous “Absolution”. Three years down the line, you’d think they’d answer the same question with the same answer – and in the case of their camp sci-fi disco single, “Supermassive Black Hole”, they have – but generally this album proves a sad, unexpected truth. That once you go over the top twice, you hit a Perspex ceiling.

Blame it on bombast fatigue on the part of Muse or over-familiarity with the Muse shtick on the part of the listener, but this is the first Muse album to sound – brace yourself, outrageous melodrama fans – ordinary. Where once we gasped with awe and choked in disbelief as Matt Bellamy and company turned pirouette upon pirouette, cackling in fancy dress at the end of the world and the prospect of mortality, now it all seems smaller somehow, as if Armageddon has been reduced to a snowstorm and put on a shelf, priced at 99p.

Part of the problem is that never before have you witnessed Muse make a bold move forward and then change their mind and step back – this is the first Muse album to suggest that they’re mere mortals rather than rampaging geniuses on a creative high. The album opens brilliantly, with “Take A Bow” adding the distant thud of house to Muse’s usual Toccata & Fugue-style flow of electronics, and “Starlight” fusing Goldfrapp and Grandaddy before giving way to the hyper Prince falsetto and dirty synth of the single and the sleek Giorgio Moroder meets The Cure circa “A Forest” glide of “Map Of The Problematique”.

But after that, instead of heading off even further into the realms of dance and proto-dance and keyboard geekery, they revert to type, only less so. “Invincible” and “Exo Politics” are almost Muse by numbers – or rather Muse with the grand space opera sweep and near-ridiculous, often-sublime guitar histrionics strangely absent. “City Of Delusion”, meanwhile – and oh what an irony this is – sounds like Radiohead, something that Muse haven’t done for quite some time now. With the manic riffing stripped right back, the focus is shifted to Bellamy’s vocal – and as he spends most of the album railing against the government and claustrophobia of the modern age, the similarity is inescapable.

Which leaves Muse where? With half a blueprint and, hopefully, a notion to make a record that sounds like Prince cavorting with their old selves in some uncharted corner of the cosmos. As it is, this isn’t so much as a grand leap forward, as a sudden attack of vertigo. (by Ian Watson)