Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Just by looking at their cover art, it's obvious.
Muse is not a cool band. Once we accept the fact that they are not operating in the same playing field as Franz Ferdinand or Modest Mouse, it may be easier to enjoy them.

The British trio plays heavy prog-rock, which is inherently uncool. They have more in common with ELP, Queen and Rush than Radiohead (granted, lead singer Matt Bellamy's voice is akin to Thom Yorke's, in that it's a falsetto) and this is also uncool. Their newest record Black Holes and Revelations is bombastic, over-the-top and wholly self-important. And did I mention that the cover art is totally uncool?

Why would four bald men be sitting around a wooden table in the middle of a desert wearing gold, silver or eyeball patterned suits made from aluminum foil? I have no idea. And I'm pretty sure the men sitting in the desert have no idea, either. It's the sort of album cover that already looks dated--it reminds me of the sometimes absurd Pink Floyd album art* which inspired more laughs than gasps. I imagine an unknowing teen sorting through the used CD bin years from now, picking up Black Holes and then putting it down immediately. And for shame. Because when we embrace the uncool, we'll find that Muse's latest release is a triumphant and thrilling record. It's the musical version of an intelligent summer blockbuster (if only there were such a thing) where reality suspension is always involved.

It's my impression that the independent music listener (much like the movie snob) has forgotten how to enjoy popcorn fare. Pitchfork Media, for example, is so used to reviewing Important Records that they've forgotten how to approach anything otherwise. In an over-thought review of Black Holes, Sam Ubl gets it all wrong. The low 4.2 score does not surprise me--giving Muse a high score would have been the equivalent of Ubl's saying that Animal Collective or Frog Eyes do not matter because, ultimately, Muse is their opposite and everything those bands don't want to be. Muse is an arena rock band that a) takes itself very seriously and b) has with a political agenda. Still with me?

Ubl writes:
"Muse epitomize pompous stadium rock in a technology-numbed, post-Radiohead era. Their tracks come loaded up with burbling synth arpeggios and other "futuristic" effects intended to announce the band's modernity. But the music is firmly ol' skool at heart: proggy hard rock that forgoes any pretensions to restraint. What Muse lack in chophouse showmanship on the prog side of the equation they attempt to make up for in volume-- their songs use full-stacked guitars and thunderous drums to evoke god's footsteps. It's the kind of deep-fried, flash-frozen crud that can be ridiculously fun to listen to."

Okay, sounds good to me so far. I mean, how is this bad? Doesn't this describe everything we adored growing up in high school? Couldn't this essentially be the opening paragraph to a review of one of our favorite Queen albums Innuendo (underrated as far as I'm concerned)? [Note to Ubl: Does "Invincible" sound like "Buckley's "Hallelujah" or does "Hoodoo" sound like Buckley's "Lilac Wine?" Who cares. Originality has no place in rock and roll].

In his closing paragraph, Ubl concludes:
"What's most difficult of all to look past is that Black Holes was created in all earnestness by three dudes in Hot Topic shirts advancing a vision of rock music that operates on three fundamental assumptions: 1) distortion is always better than no distortion; 2) every measure of music should contain at least one drum fill; and 3) the future will be dominated by robots. Muse leaves no room for compromise on these points. So for peace of mind, call them retro, because they can't reasonably consider such a vision inventive or resonant in 2K6. Can they?"

Are these truly the three fundamental assumptions surrounding this record? After listening to it multiple times, I can only agree with one of them. And do you really find the notion that robots will probably dominate the world in the future so absurd? Have you ever seen Terminator?

Black Holes is a finely polished product that, yes, feels retro at every turn. But I'm pretty sure that this was intentional (or I hope it was). And when judging a record on the scale of inventive and resonant, how can you enjoy anything bursting with mainstream appeal? Sometimes the suspension of cool is inherent in the enjoyment of rock. In retrospect, I consider that the album art may serve as an intentional warning to those seeking an Important Record. Those four men are sitting around the wooden table sweating profusely for a good cause. They're there to entice the uncool.

- Listen to two songs from Black Holes and Revelations here

* from Wikipedia: "The artwork, designed by Storm Thorgerson, depicts a landscape of the surface of Mars with four men seated around a table with three miniature horses on it. The setting is thought to signify Cydonia, and the connection with horses a reference to knights, explaining the title of “Knights of Cydonia.” The knights are also believed to represent the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, from the Book of Revelation in the New Testament of the Bible, with their horses of four different colors."
Coincidentally, Storm Thorgerson was the cover artist for many Pink Floyd covers (including the one I link above). I did not find this out until I finished writing this review.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe if you opened your eyes slightly, you prat, you'll see that the men aren't sitting in the 'middle of a desert', they are sitting on Mars (look up a little bit if you can, and you'll see Earth and its Moon in the distance). The whole album, including its artwork is about mind control, reality (or lack of it), and what lies in store for our future. It is an important message, and narrow-minded people like yourself, who care only about material aspects of the world, are just bigger pawns than the rest of us. Now that's uncool darlin.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Arye said...

Whoa. Take it easy there, "darlin." We are just talking about Muse here, right?

10:06 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home