How Muse Expanded Their Sound on ‘Black Holes and Revelations’
The moment when your favorite little band turns into everyone else’s gigantic favorite band is one of the more aggravating things to happen to a music fan. Sure, it’s great for the artist, but forever gone is the original intimacy experienced by early audiences. That shift happened at the point when Muse released Black Holes and Revelations in July 2006.
The band had little choice as the reality was that their music could no longer fit into the 1,000-seaters they had been playing in the U.S. up to that point. It was obvious from the album opener “Take a Bow,” which sounded like a laser show looks, through the closer and new millennia “Bohemian Rhapsody”-styled “Knights of Cydonia,” that the U.K. trio wasn’t just ready for a bigger stage – it was a necessity.
Their home country had already caught on, with Muse headlining the main-stage on the third night of the 2004 Glastonbury Festival while still relegated to sharing the bill on radio festivals in the U.S. with long-forgotten footnotes like Lit and Kottonmouth Kings.
Black Holes and Revelations marked the change spectacularly, with frontman and guitar virtuoso Matthew Bellamy decidedly expanding the breadth of the band’s musicality. He toyed with funk flair in his playing on “Supermassive Black Hole,” touched on Indian and Middle Eastern flavors in “City of Delusion” and produced sounds that seemed to be pilfered from Thom Yorke’s laptop – not surprising as there was always an element to Muse which sounded like Radiohead on steroids.
Much to the detriment of some longtime fans, the sonic abrasiveness and sharp edges Muse had on their previous three records were buffed out almost completely in favor of a more palatable, deep gloss. There was nothing frenzied as “Fillip” (Showbiz), grimy as “Citizen Erased” or hefty and poppy like “Plug-In Baby” (both Origin of Symmetry); even the heaviest track on Black Holes, “Assassins,” was a watered-down “Stockholm Syndrome” (Absolution).
Yet everything managed to be bigger on Black Holes and Revelations. The Queen-like harmonies and choruses, the vocals and the instrumentations had the feel of soaring into the cosmos. “Starlight” and “Invincible,” in particular, were tailored for the Wembley Stadiums of the world. Musical acts change their sound all the time, often it’s more overt, but rarely do they blow it up so effectively without at the very least toeing the line that crosses over into Spinal Tap territory.
Most importantly, it drew in the masses to fill those venues where they would witness grandiose productions reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s stage shows – at the aforementioned Wembley for instance, where Muse became the first artist to sellout the new site with record attendance.
And they did it twice.
By the end of the touring cycle for Black Holes and Revelations two summers later, there was no going back, denying it or wishing things could go back to the way it was before; Muse had elevated every aspect of their game into the stratosphere.
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