Music

Muse: Absolution

Richard T. Williams

Muse

Absolution

Label: Warner Bros.
US Release Date: 2004-03-23
UK Release Date: 2003-09-22
Amazon
iTunes

Muse certainly know what they're doing. They didn't become darlings of the UK press and public alike by standing around clueless while the fads and trends of modern rock aesthetically surpassed them; Muse clutch onto the trappings of late-'90s grunge and industrial-influenced hard rock as consciously as Carlos Dengler styles his hair. What Muse think they understand underneath all the anthemic layers of posed apocalyptic angst and operatic hard rock is the fundamental difference between complacently representing the now in rock and ambitiously attempting to ascend the "era-defining" tag that cripples the fresh careers of other young upstarts.

With their third album, Absolution, Muse touch upon rock cornerstones of all decades past, elements known to propel bands onto the classic echelon. The angst and alienation of The Matrix-era techno-metal, defined by the aforementioned guitar sludge and industrial noise, still holds the unfortunate position of being the most expired offshoot of rock, yet it remains the nucleus of the record, represented in its purest state by the rockers "Stockholm Syndrome" and "Hysteria". The lyrical bent, offering nothing new for Muse -- or alternative rock in general ("This is the last time I'll abandon you / This is the last time I'll forget you / I wish I could") -- except perhaps a hint of optimism ("I won't let you down, I won't leave you falling / If the moment ever comes") tends toward the upheaval of personal relationships as the world is coming to an end.

Instead, the highlights of the album are those that break from the subgenre's conventions. The adventurous, psychedelic guitar embellishments, powerful piano lines and lush, melodic keyboard passages that have all become synonymous with classic art rock are best typified by the majestic opener "Apocalypse Please" and the symphonic "Butterflies & Hurricanes," which contains no fewer than three astonishing, dynamic breaks in its structure. The verses of the lead US radio single "Time Is Running Out" and the entirety of the synthesizer-dominated ballad "Endlessly" hint at '80s-style dance beats and polished production. Ultimately, the arrangements of more than half the songs are defined by their progressive '70s bombast and pretentiousness. Even the album cover includes the sort of distraught-figure-imposed-upon-graphic-design photography that seemingly graced all the good art rock albums of the '70s.

In an effort to both broaden their appeal and quell their creative restlessness, Muse barely alter their existing sound, yet certainly develop it further. At the end of the Radiohead-über-alles era, after years of being unfairly judged by some critical factions as scavengers feeding upon and regurgitating the ideas cast aside by the superior Oxford band, Muse have broken away from their obvious artistic forefathers, most notably by ditching the producer they shared, John Leckie. Absolution's production duties were instead handled by Rich Costey, who is clearly less of a sonic auteur, as he has worked with everyone from Rage Against the Machine to Philip Glass to Fiona Apple. While the change helps liberate Muse from the shadow looming overhead, which may help them finally break America, it also tends to demonstrate which facets of the band's sound are the most redundant. Despite frontman Matthew Bellamy's uncannily similar vocal timbre and inflection to that of Thom Yorke, only the gentler, more sensitive songs ("Falling Away with You", "Blackout") compare to those of The Bends- or OK Computer-era Radiohead. Perhaps the most striking comparison between the two bands is the trajectory they seem to be following, aspiring to greatness from an overly derivative, unexceptional beginning, and slowly but surely achieving it over the course of a decade. Radiohead's model of success, however, is an anomaly in rock, and as such the band became an unexpected phenomenon, and a legend in its own right; can it happen again?

Absolution is certainly a step in the right direction for Muse, the third increment of their ascendancy, as another generation of "it" bands steps before them and consumes their limelight. While their classicist approach and lofty ambitions are respectable, it may benefit the band to stop advertising their promises and merely deliver. Bellamy sings, "Best, you've got to be the best / You've got to change the world / And use this chance to be heard / Your time is now". They should follow their own advice; Muse's time could be now.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors


David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Music

Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.

Film

NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.

Music

South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.

Music

Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.