Sound — 9
Muse have taken another step in another direction this album, building on the sound of Absolution in a quite unpredictable way. I'd say by far this is the most 'deep'-sounding Muse album, with much more in the way of electronic keyboard sounds (sadly at the expense of much of the piano-style keys we're used to, but you get used to it) and layers of sound. There's some fascinating tracks on here, towards the end of the album particularly, tracks like Hoodoo and City Of Delusion feature Flamenco-influenced guitars and, in the latter, a trumpet solo. Essentially what we're getting from Muse here is a once again very different sound. Personally I wasn't encouraged by their choice of single, Supermassive Black Hole. So if you've been interested in the album simply to find out if this the (somewhat disappointing) style they've turned to then the answer is a resounding no. The rest of the album does indeed feature the heavily distorted bass, downright weird guitar and keyboard sounds and wailing vocals that this track does but, not to such a degree. SMBH is like an extreme example of their new sound and, for me, doesn't encapsulate the feel of the album the way, in my opinion, a first single should. It should be noted that, in the US, the first single will be Knights Of Cydonia, which I feel is a much better choice. Despite my dissatisfaction with the single, when listened to in the context of the rest of the album it genuinely works a lot better. When you hear it following Starlight and preceding Map Of The Problematique, you can see where they're coming from and see the logical connections it makes with the rest of the album. I suppose it's a matter of personal opinion on whether it works as a song on its own, but as part of the album it fits right in. Another note is that the early stages of the album transition so quickly as to almost sync together. It's almost chaotic, which I think is probably intentional and more or less reflects the feel of the songs. Overal I'd say this was a more complex-sounding Muse which, at first listen, could easily be mistaken for being very pop-influenced. The more you listen to it the more you notice how much your first impression of it was wrong. At first listen, I would've given this album 6/10 for being solid but, in general, somewhat disappointing. After a few spins, my opinion has been utterly brought round and I'm giving it a 9 for a deceptively complex and inventive album, without a single really weak track and endless potential for spicing up their live set.
Lyrics — 7
The lyrics here are often working on similar levels to many of the Absolution themes, particularly ideas of space, discovery, and a degree of frustration, recalling tracks like Sing For Absolution or The Small Print. There's some new ideas too, with some much more politically-themed tracks like A Soldier's Poem, Ex-Politics or Assassin. But it's not done in the near-patronising oversimplified way a band like System Of A Down have expressed their political views - We have the same kind of interpretive and passionate lyrics that we really expect. All I can say is that the lyric-writing style and execution hasn't dipped in quality in any way. Matt's vocals are great still, on this album, but there's much more of the wailing, catatonic vocals that on Absolution and less of the raw, emotional singing from the heavier tracks like Stockholm Syndrome or Hysteria. But again it sounds more complex, some tracks feature dual vocal layers (which presumably Chris will have to provide in a live setting, which is welcome because we know he can hold a tune pretty well) and there's new levels of vocal effects which we've seen hints of before but never really utilised as the basis of a song's sound. Overall, impressive vocals once again, but the higher pitched wailing isn't my personally preferred style that Matt does. Despite that, I concede his remarkable talent in doing this, and the lyrics are as quality as on previous albums.
Overall Impression — 9
This is difficult to compare to other albums I've heard. Some immediately made the comparison to the Scissor Sisters with the new single and, if anything, I was to dispell any anxiousness Muse fans have that they've turned towards this kind of poppy self-indulgence. Muse have, in my mind, always been a band who defy genre or classification, they do a lot of different things with each album and, simply, there are a few tracks with which they've tried to take their own view of pop music. But it's the way pop music should be done, it's musically interesting, lyrically provocative and utterly different to anything else in the charts. So that's fine. And the rest of the album is varied and fascinating, maybe not noticeably so on a first listen but enough to make you want to hear again. It's certainly an album that will grow on you, and it's got a lot of ideas which we've never heard from the band before. Overall it's a confusing but ultimately satisfying album. Standout tracks for me would be Map Of The Problematique, Assassin and Knights Of Cydonia but, genuinely, every single track has qualities to bring you round and really love the album if you're prepared to give it the time and attention it deserves.