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Muse - Absolution CD (album) cover




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3.85 | 467 ratings

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4 stars You know, there are times when I want to give an LP masterpiece status even when the context tells me it's clearly not a masterpiece of prog rock. This tends to happen when an album grips me in the right way, and I simply enjoy it with tremendous enthusiasm every time I hear it, despite its obvious imperfections.

However, I approach Muse's Absolution as if I was going to be listening to a Prog Rock album and sadly, this is not even in the running for a Masterpiece of Prog Rock award - it's proggy alright, but not proggy enough to compete with Genesis, Gentle Giant, VDGG et al.

In all fairness to Muse, while it's not a Prog Rock album, it is a complete masterpiece and a finely crafted and well thought-out concept, and I think it's just brilliant:

With Rich Costey of Philip Glass and TMV fame behind the knobs, Muse rise to a whole new level with "Absolution" - the riffs are bigger and crush more bones than ever before, the imperfections in the chord sequences are all but gone, Matt's voice sweeps Justin Hawkins away in lung-bursting, wine-glass shattering and spine-chillingly haunting style, Thom Yorke and Radiohead are all but forgotten, and the atmospherics are, er more atmospheric.

It's my habit to do a track-by-track analysis, so I won't do that this time, but simply dip in and pull out the interesting highlights...

The first of which is the introduction, and the second of which is the second track, a towering, apocalyptical colossus entitled "Apocalypse Please". "It's time we saw a miracle, come on, it's time for something Biblical". Stirring stuff indeed, and the music shifts beneath it, with huge power chords trading place with bubbling synths, beautiful quasi-classical dischords, delicate falsettos, pounding drums and crashing piano chords - if ever there was a piece written for the end of the world, this truly is it.

The next highlight is track 3. "Time is Running Out" may contain lyrics that whiff strongly of gouda, but the atmospherics in the quiet sections contrasting with the build ups to the massive choruses are textural genius and just seem to press all the right buttons. The range of guitar sounds that Bellamy uses is quite stunning - especially when you consider that this is not all studio trickery, and he does this live. What he also does live is that falsetto that makes your throat hurt in sympathy. OK, it's not a prog song, but its' gigantic anthemic splendour is surely something to admire.

Ye gods, the next highlight is "Sing For Absolution" - Muse may have produced some of the most beautiful ballads ever on their previous albums, but here they surpass themselves, with a melody of aching wistfulness, and haunting atmospherics. They also restrain themselves admirably on the first chorus, a feat which hightens the drama spectacularly. The only issue I have with it really is that it's very much in the tried and tested Muse formula, so seems somewhat familiar until it reaches the codetta, where Bellamy is at his most impassioned yet, and produces a fine tenor top C in natural as opposed to falsetto voce, with lush guitar counterpoint.

...and so it goes on. Another monster riff from hell kicks off "Stockholm Syndrome", which proceeds to grow and grow until another massive riff kicks in, redefining bombastic to it's core. This is where I run out of adjectives, and words like massive, gigantic and colossal don't seem quite enough to describe what's going on here - Muse don't play heavy metal, but the music is equally if not more intense than even some of the more intense metal bands - quite frightening in a way - and the piano arpeggios only serve to heighten the drama and power of this song. Essentially quite simple, but this is ROCK at a new level, and shows clearly why Muse are prog-related, and why Rick Wakeman himself declared Muse to be a modern Prog Rock band. The riff that finishes this piece defies all words. It's hard to imagine anything better...

With their astute sense of drama and overall album shape, Muse take it right down for "Falling Away With You", a sensitive ballad style opening, leading to the predictable but very welcome and absorbing huge chorus. The textures are experimentally arpeggiated and highlight the sense of falling away very well in a musically onomatapaeic way. There are more achingly wistful melody lines backed with unusual atmospherics, that segue straight into "Interlude", a tension-builder par excellence, and then...

It might be overplayed on just about every UK radio station, but "Hysteria" simply has the king of all riffs to its credit. I said it's hard to imagine anything better after "Stockholm Syndrome", but this is it. A fairly unremarkable song by Muse's standards is framed and underscored by this perfect creation of riffdom, a riff so awesome that even if you listen to it quietly, your ears bleed. Even the obligatory truly awful guitar solo doesn't take anything away from this riff - you keep listening because you want more - you need more - you want it now... all together, air guitars at the ready...

"Butterflies and Hurricanes" is the next highlight, the soft intro not kidding you for one second - you know that a monster is on its way and, while it can't and doesn't try to compete with "Hysteria", the build-up over a minute and a half is simply masterful, and has that unmistakable prog vibe about it. I'll say it again: How the devil do three guys manage to make so much noise? Did Matt have personal tuition from Lemmy?

The drifting, shifting harmonic progressions are pure bliss, and the string and piano layers provide full pretensions to progginess - the silence dropping into the Rachmaninovian cascades around 3:30 is simply inspired - you'd think Emerson would start looking over his shoulder eversoslightly... Bellamy keeps up the piano backing through the next verse - although it's a bit far down in the mix for my liking.

"The Small Print" is another adrenaline-fuelled rocker with yet another riff that would make Godzilla feel like an ant about to be crushed. Bellamy gets enthusiastic with the textures - this is, after all, what he is best at, and why there are so few guitar solos on Muse's output; Who needs them when the textural development is this good? With obvious inspiration from Johnny Greenwood, Bellamy really has an authoritative style combining rhythm and texture with wonderful angular chords.

"Endlessly" suggests that Muse have been listening to the later Radiohead output, as the intro reminds me a little of the textures that the latter explore on "Kid A", and the textural build-up is gentle and flows well enough, but stands out as a marked contrast from the other material presented here. The change in percussion texture around 1:30 provides an amazing sense of space, and helps to rescue what is otherwise a very plain song by Muse's standards. Some of the textural experimentation is brought forward around 2:40, and brings a new focus to the song, but really, it's just on to the next one.

The problem with a song like Hysteria is that it's pretty much unfollowable, and you really have to stick with "Thoughts of a Dying Atheist" to get the most out of it - and it does have much to offer, despite a couple of harmonic progression issues towards the end of the chorus, especially. However, there is more tremendous energy here, and the lyrics are thought-provoking, if not profound; "It scares the hell out of me, the end is all I can see".

"Ruled by Secrecy" marks the 3rd album in a row out of 3 from Muse in which I feel unsatisfied with the ending. It starts to feel like a lot more of the same, with nothing really new to offer from the deep bag of Muse's trickery. It's worth sticking it out, though, as more Rachmaninov-inspired piano is forthcoming around 3:30, and from there to the end, the ride is very enjoyable (and prog related) indeed.

In summary, then, a slightly over-long album jam-packed with proggy goodies and musical highlights, with more drama per square inch than RADA, and more passion than Mills and Boon. If the word "Bombastic" turns you off, then look elsewhere for entertainment, otherwise, very much an album for everyone (even if you only ever listen to the first half), with some of the best riffing outside "proper" heavy metal - and some riffs that outclass even that. Oh, and a fair smattering of progginess.

Certif1ed | 4/5 |


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