Sound — 7
What a shift in sound. This is sure to turn supposed fans into haters as I honestly don't think a band's sound has changed as much as Muse's has in their latest release as here they dabble with electro-pop, choirs, soul/funk elements and late 60s/70s guitar riffing. As much a fan of Muse I am, I'm going to have to say this album is not as consistent as would have been acceptable with most people as one minute you're listening to the bone-crunching riffing of "Supremacy" and the next you're faced with Muse's rendition of electro-pop in the form of "M-M-M-M-M-M-M-M-Madness". The first half of this album really has no flow as the sound then cuts to that of an 80's funk in the form of "Panic Station", which personally I thought is a standout song and it's bound to be a radio hit thanks to the strong beat made by Chris Wolstenholme's thunderous slap bass technique. The direction of this album changes again with a delve into symphonic metal in Olympic single "Survival", which is on its own, an epic masterpiece. But once again the album's direction cuts to an electro-pop number, which I really don't understand as Matt Bellamy has too much musical skill to degrade himself to such low depths. Moving on to "Animals" and here Matt shows off his Spanish guitar skills in an atmospheric alt rock delve. "Big Freeze" sounds like your standard Muse soft song that could be home in any of their previous albums, but this is then followed by "Save Me" and "Liquid State", which are different from any other Muse song really as Matt's vocalist position is taken over by bassist Chris and these songs fit the flow and mood that started with Animals. And then, the all-polarising Classical-cum-dubstep (Classistep?) track "Unsustainable". Personally a favourite of mine. Really impressed with the violin riffing and use of haunting choirs mixed with the apocalyptic use of the robotic voice and Kaoss Pad installed on Matt's guitar to make the infamous wub-wub sounds. Very atmospheric, and leading into the final cut, "Isolated System" which is another haunting composition to complete the album.
Lyrics — 9
Despite going back to the whole 'relationships' theme, the lyrics are mature, just like any of their most recent albums, with a really self-reflecting mood. In Chris' two songs he discusses his struggle with alcoholism and he proves himself to be a very capable singer, able to create a mood where the listener just wants to root for him all the way home. Matt Bellamy opts for a further delve into opera-esque singing and with the electro-pop numbers he adopts the standard style you hear on your radio, which personally I feel is tasteless, and Matt only saves Muse's blushes by having such a strong voice that really can't be criticised. Falsetto use once again is done with superb delivery as heard in "Supremacy" and "Survival". The spoken word style used in Unsustainable is effective in getting Matt's viewpoint of our energy usage across to listeners, explicitly warning them that their current usage of energy is 'unsustainable' and it really shows what mature and important music Muse makes, contrary to some of the closed-minded 'fans' that rip on them whenever they stray from pure rock.
Overall Impression — 8
Not their best effort to date, but a fairly solid one with the climax leaving you with a mix of emotions (awe, hauntedness, emptiness) and so definitely a huge shift in direction. Still some extremely sexy uses of the falsetto vocal range, and sick riffing, but they've been pushed into the background for an exploration of soul and electronica conventions that don't directly sound like the Muse everyone knows. When it is released in CD I will go purchase it as I think it is a worthy album, if only for the superb tracks, "Panic Station", "Unsustainable", "Isolated System", "Survival", "Supremacy" and for my support of musical innovation.