Tuesday, May 3, 2011

#20 -- Muse's "Black Holes & Revelations" Reviewed | * * * *

"It makes you question your own ability to kick ass, then gives you all the tools you need to strut across the peak of Olympus Mons like you don't give a shit that you can't breathe methane or carbon dioxide. Go forth and #SLAM_DANCE!"

Human imagination is a horrifying thing. This album's cover features a bunch of REM-looking motherfuckers sitting on Mars drinking tea. Calmly. Something in the artists' lives inspired them (imagining the electrical whirring of the human mind) to make the music that inspired the album, that inspired the cover, that inspired us to listen to the music that made us imagine a Acropolis-themed nightclub housed on a space-zeppelin's lower deck orbiting Mars' second moon, Phobos. 

Musically, this was our Star Wars moment, our Lord of the Rings moment. It yells through an ancient yelling-tube crafted from a series of interlaced woolly mammoth tusks: "There is hope in the universe, even for the dust." The soaring optimism on track 2, the shredding bass/guitar intro on track 7, the teeth-gritting that becomes the first and only moment a man has head-banging to trumpet music on track 11. The entire album puts you in your place. It makes you question your own ability to kick ass, then gives you all the tools you need to strut across the peak of Olympus Mons like you don't give a shit that you can't breathe methane or carbon dioxide. Go forth and #SLAM_DANCE! 

The album, Black Holes & Revelations by Muse, is so violent in its love and in its hatred. It sees the good that is taken by the bad things, making the love downright Byronic and the hate paranoid. Just like real life, actually. Black Holes & Revelations is the collision of space-faring gunslingers riding into battle against a Machiavellian motherfucker with no face and a Brazilian lilt. It begins with track 1, 'Take a Bow,' which isn't a track 1 in the way that, say, 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' is, because 'Take a Bow' has actual words. Tonally, it's a stage-setter, but musically, it's a bookend. You know, bookends, those heavy, pretty things that keep your books standing up? You need two of them, and 'Take a Bow' props up the beginning of the album, giving you a tall ledge to jump off of head-first. 'Take a Bow' welcomes you into a world bigger than all of us, then asks you if you'd be okay with breathing through a bamboo shoot under a murky pond while somebody you don't know shows you photographs of light bulbs. Chunky, prophetic space-rock and rolling drumbeats present us with a galaxy of corrupted emotions to chose from. Somebody is to blame for these transgressions and we're going into fucking space to find our answers. 

Ever been water-skiing? You should, water sports, lake games, things like that, they're all fun. Track 2 is 'Starlight,' an emotionally-simple but technically demanding song, and it's basically the sensation of drinking upper-middle-class malt-liquor while water-skiing. It's a comforting, rapid heartbeat that makes you smile without any worry of offending somebody's parents. It's PG-13. It's Live Free or Die Hard. There are explosions and a calm offer to join what's about to happen. Just don't fade away, alright? We might travel far and we might forget the people that we love if we aren't careful. So, just, please, promise not to fade away. This will be dangerous. Okay? Good. Because shit is about to get heavy. Ever played the greased watermelon game? It's a lake game. You should, it's innocent fun (really! (REALLY!! (it's just retrieving a buttered watermelon from the bottom of a lake.))). But it's slippery, and it's tough to hang onto, and for no good reason, you want to grip it and eat it. Enter track 3. 

'Supermassive Black Hole' is the heaviest hunk of spiky-sticky gravity ever to knock us upside the head. It'll make you stub your toe. It draws blood. It's a dance party on a dying sun when you first arrive. This is the theme-song to every dark-haired girl that's ever ignored you. Two things are happening on this track. First, you are powerless, because the lyrics are secretly about what a pussy you are, and why that dark-haired girl could probably level you with her eyes or with the laser-blade she keeps in. . . wherever. Secondly, however, you don't care, and you'll rock out anyway. 

Now, 'Map of the Problematique' is a tragic moment in an alley behind a very nice restaurant. Your stomach is full of expensive food and there's this beautiful catharsis that you think is on the other end of booting it all up, but you really want to ride it out to tell people you beat food poisoning. Your legs feel like noodles. The song makes you vibrate for a good reason. It couldn't have possibly gone this badly, but it did, and now a lonely light is making your grime-caked thoughts so real and immediate. As a sequel to 'Supermassive Black Hole,' it's clear that the "you are powerless" suggestion from the earlier track conquered the "you don't care" declaration. Inside the Sonic Vortex -- which was designed by a misguided alien race whose name you can't pronounce with a human tongue, and is built to remove meat from skeleton -- and between you and your destination, there are a trillion-trillion images that you can't cope with. The bridge on this track is an F-22 Raptor attack, the time compression that you wanted to think wasn't there is in fact there. Drive Angry is a movie starring Nicholas Cage -- 'Map of the Poblematique' has a solo that makes you Yell AWESOME!

Fresh off of your Ice Cream Sandwich Guitar Solo Skydive on the last song, you're dumped into the same despair-choked wasteland where Roger Waters probably hung out back in the late 1970's. There might be no coming back from this misery. 

Defeated, we move to 'Solider's Poem,' and the beginning of the passionate reflection. We mourn the lost. All the women in this town are shockingly beautiful but each and every one was left at the altar. Nobody will tell you why! The one-ton melancholyphant in the room is that there's a tone of self-pity to the vocals, which is hardly righteous. It's proof that Muse is capable of more intimate sadness and not just shouty-pouty glamorous loneliness. There's just a few things that need to be said, most notably: you won't get your way in life, it's possible nobody will remember you, and you probably did die back there in the Sonic Vortex. Which means your Ice Cream Sandwich Guitar Solo Skydive probably didn't happen. You're dead now. You'll never play greased watermelon again.

'Invincible,' track 6, resurrects the dead! We want it to be played at sunset at the start of the third act of a movie where our hero has just defeated and eaten an anthropomorphic lion demi-god (directed by Tarsem Singh). Be reassured that no matter the medium -- music, book, movie -- nobody dies in sci-fi. There are ghosts in the guitar, and those ghosts can play sitar. From here, we realize that we're stronger outside of hatred and although there is a thrumming marching snare, the people marching aren't in unison. They aren't marching at all, these souls are straight-up walking out of hell in street clothes, revived by the call that as one, against the threat that's bigger than all of us, we aren't helpless. This is the revelation. We went inside the black hole, and at first, there was no way to fight it, it was too big, too complex, but during the struggle, it's revealed that nothing is all-powerful. We're fighters, not lovers.

'Assassin.' Track 7 is called 'Assassin.' It. Kicks. Ass. This is a song that makes you want to sprint, makes you want to dodge bullets, makes you want to hip-check a child into the boards -- 'Assassin' is a song that makes shrooming and then Tweet-casting the Götterdämmerung cycle from Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen seem like a good idea. It is a hard-shelled taco filled with cheese and crystal methamphetamine, eaten in fast motion while Bruce Lee reads aloud the final controntation between Snape and Dumbledore from Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince. Suddenly, we're going to war! There are no more dance parties, no more lost loves, we've learned that despite finding strength in each other, things are going to get harder before they get easier. The vocals don't have many words -- they're elongated, elegantly matched to the gunfire bass-line. Now is the time for action. Now is the time for throwing stars!

But how? Throwing stars are impracticable! 'Exo-Politics' comes next and we realize that although we have identified our enemy as a tangible entity, he is exceedingly complex. New-found optimism gives way to a series of frightening heart attacks, each more encrushening (not a word) than the last -- things might not be as they seem. There are the steady drums in the background and a more carefully-thinking guitar in the foreground, contemplating options as calmly as one can, given the conspiratorial diorama we're in the midst of. They're here for our minds, a terrifying notion. So what can we do? We can wait. We have to blend in, take our time, focus hard, and strike when the time is right. 

Things return to something more acoustic and personal on the next track. 'City of Delusion' is a collapsing world. Who was the mad genius that built a sand-castle inside a snow-fort? What will happen when there's nothing left to believe in? Can we trust anybody? Can we trust ourselves? It's entirely possible, lyrics asking if we should just tear these walls down with any justification, that there is no escape at this point. Even when we know our enemy, even when we have hope, there's the chance that we are lying to ourselves. All bets are off -- at this point, just buy an antique Triumph and don't bother with any insurance, because if (when!) you wreck it, your bones and brains will resemble electric eels. Perhaps we're just desperate for something better than sitting around and waiting to die. But that's just a slow-motion version of the same death! A gunslinging trumpet sounds across the battlefield and the world's foundation shakes. Reality has been broken and there's no telling what might be left when the shaking is over. Will we be justified? Will we be saved? Will have been right about you all along? 

It's the mythic dark in 'Hoodoo,' the second to last (canonically) song. Night and the world have certainly fallen. It isn't entirely dark but not entirely better, and there's a somber, far-off suggestion that we should rebuild. Is it an idea or a person we've dragged out of the rubble and are mourning over? Then the piano kicks in, the funeral dirge joins it, and we watch the invincible souls leave the crumbling world that we attempted to save. You think about the party you'd like to throw next weekend, but then remember that everybody's dead from a disease called: World-Imploded. It's sad, because it should've been us. It shouldn't have been you, and for that, we're sorry. A twangy guitar punctuates every final apology, thoughtfully twirling in a human way in the back of our heads. It's too late. 

Years pass. The sun has risen and fallen and risen again. Out of the ash come the 'Knights of Cydonia.' The baddest fucking song in existence. It is the same sound that the fire-GEARZZZ make when God activates his Jurassic dinosaur-making machine. The drums are the pounding hoof-beats of King Midas' 5-legged Steampunk War-Chimera. He's holding onto what's golden. This ruined world remains and we'll carry on, fighting, protecting what's left, hearts heavy, yes, but never giving up and never giving in. The trumpet returns, sounding the arrival of a new age of tragic cyber-heroes, flawed, white-hot Cosmobots and red-hot cowgirls that ride mecha-steeds in recline-saddle because they can. It's introspective and rapid in its approach to the apocalypse. 'Knights of Cydonia' sends a message back in time as a warning. Watch for the Fool-King, he will attempt to ruin us all! You go back, we'll hold them off here, going down fighting for our survival! Streaking across deserts, riding into battle, there is no force, no defeat, nothing that can stop the continual rise of good against evil. The guitar is a Great Wall of Sound, wonders one through seventy of the NEO-ANCIENT world, and it creates a gravity-well stronger than any bookend. 

The scariest thing imaginable is something that you personally imagine. Black Holes & Revelations is just like you imagined it.

* * * *
(out of 4)

-- Ghost Little
on Twitter  |  @GhostLittle_WTF

1 comment:

  1. We have reviews of Zelda: Majora's Mask, Killzone 3, and Paradise Lost basically done, but they keep getting lost in the shuffle (Black Holes & Revelations gotten written up in about 2 hours).

    Preference on what goes up next?