I’ve had my disagreements with Mr. Ewins about Elbow in the past. But now I must dissent with the man on Muse’s Black Holes and Revelations. The album’s okay, I guess. “Starlight,” with a piano riff that seems less a integral component to the song and more of a nod to mellowing alt-rock listeners (“Yes,” the band seems to assure us, “it’s okay to listen to pop music after thirty.”), shouldn’t get stuck in your head, but it does.
But if an album can be judged on the basis of whether it serves as good road trip music, then Black Holes doesn’t fit the bill. As I was speeding 85 mph in Wisconsin listening to “Map of the Problematique,” contemplating the pretentious song title and its percussive insistence that, dammit, Muse is about something, I felt as if I was being conned. I enjoyed Muse’s melodic aggressiveness on its previous three albums, but at least, back then, the band understood then that vocalist Matthew Bellamy had his limitations. Instead, they’ve thrown this doofus at the forefront of the mix, encouraging his angsty sham. Bad enough that Thom Yorke lost his whiny panache with the solo album, but what can one say when one is greeted by a Thom Yorke imitator whining, “Loneliness be over / When will this loneliness be over?” Meet me on a street corner, Matt, so I can show you a homeless woman who’s truly suffering.
It doesn’t help that Muse possesses the attention span of an infant wired up on Rockstars. They can’t settle on any musical style for more than thirty seconds. On “Invincible,” the most insufferable track on the album, it’s space rock one moment, arpeggio-based ballad the next, 70s prog rock the next, inflated 1977 hard rock solo the next, all with Bellamy whining into your ears like a constipated teenager who needs to be told where the laxative is, and then needs a comprehensive explanation on what a medicine cabinet is and how to open it. The band is so without nuance or feeling that they have the effrontery to subject you to what seems to me, on the whole, to be a transparent music geek trap. And the hell of it is that they’ve succeeded.
But not with me.
Of course, it’s quite possible that Muse is sending up the bloat that the music industry relies upon like crude oil and oxygen. Certainly the final track “Knights of Cydonia,” which emerges after ten tracks of shitty bloat, suggests this.
But real bands give a damn about something outside of themselves. Only David Bowie or Sweet could get away with this kind of masturbatory glam nonsense. (I’ll see your “Soldier’s Poem” and replace it with “Seven Line Poem,” thank you very much.) And while my ears perked up a bit during the first few listens, I don’t see how any decent music lover can respect herself by clinging to such willing bombast.