When it comes to Muse people seem to have one of two reactions towards them: they either love them and think they’re one of the most unique bands around or they think they’re overrated and way too dramatic. The thing is everyone knows Muse is over the top; that’s part of what makes them so likeable, but it’s this album where things take on a dramatic tone. Here they expand everything from their music to their songwriting. This is the album that got people talking about the band and is still among their best today.
Whereas their previous album dealt more with relationships and space, the theme of this record is set up by the first track “Intro.” It’s nothing more than sounds of a rally, mainly marching in unison and it flows perfectly into the next track “Apocalypse Please.” From the song title alone you can tell things are getting ready to get bleak and Muse doesn’t let us down. There’s a stark, damning piano riff that plays throughout that sounds like Matt Bellamy is pounding it as hard as he can, trying to drain the life out of the instrument. Then, his sweet voice comes in singing “Declare this an emergency, come on and spread a sense of urgency.” Here is the beginning of the band’s dramatic music. This actually sounds like something that would play if a meteor came crashing to earth. Though it’s pretty dark, Bellamy makes you forget that by his sweet voice.
Things pick up a bit with “Time is Running Out.” Here, we get back to the guitar based rock that Muse is known for. With the infectious riff and the cool humming bass line it’s easy to get hooked on this song. What’s notable about it is how sexy Bellamy sounds when he sings things like “You will suck the life out of me,” but of course it’s still a heavy song dealing with emotions during the last part of a person’s life. Things slow down with “Sing for Absolution,” which has got to be one of Muse’s best slow songs. A bittersweet piano riff paired with Bellamy’s amazing falsetto is enough to give you tears. There are parts of the song that sound sweet like “I only dream of you/and you never knew,” but there are moments where it sounds creepy, such as “Lips are turning blue/a kiss that can’t renew;” it sounds like he’s talking about someone dying. Either way it’s a beautiful song and one of the highlights of the record.
During its release, the album was really different from what the band had done previously. Not only were they messing around with these dark themes, but the music is more piano based here whereas before it was all about out of this world guitar playing. There are definitely riff driven songs here like “Stockholm Syndrome,” which manages to capture paranoia, fear, anxiety, and lust all in one riff and “Hysteria,” which seems to be an unnatural hunger for sex, reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s “I Want You Now,” but tracks like “Butterflies and Hurricanes” really showcases Bellamy’s skill at the piano. He’s used it before on previous records, but here it’s not only front and center, but it becomes just as epic and amazing as some of his past guitar riffs. Because of this we also see more of his love for classical music shine through.
“Butterflies and Hurricanes” starts out very hushed before it explodes in a mass of elaborate piano during the chorus. But it’s during the bridge where the classical influences come through. During this part we get sweeping pianos and swelling strings that almost overwhelm the listener. The band even pulls out a full orchestra for the track “Blackout.” The whole tone is very subtle and hushed with all the classical instruments playing only above a whisper. With this track it’s best to close your eyes and let the music, along with Bellamy’s haunting vocals envelop you. During the bridge a feedback ridden guitar riff comes through and almost disrupts the hushed tone of the song. This track is actually tragic with the musical tone and Bellamy singing about life being too short and remembering the good times. Definitely another stand out tune here.
Really, every song is amazing, but there are just some that stick with you longer than the others. “Endlessly” is a unabashed love song, but again it’s easy to get lost in Matt’s soft vocals. What’s cool about this song is it actually uses some electronic elements, which they would later expand on The 2nd Law. The use it pretty subtle, but it’s just enough to make you remember the song. One of my favorite parts is after the first verse where the music sounds like it’s being played in reverse and leaves behind this weird skipping effect. Also, towards the end we get more haunting vocals and ethereal effects, that adds a hint of creepy to the whole thing.
One of the darkest songs here and one that continues the dark, bleak theme is the closer “Ruled By Secrecy.” It’s another one of their slow numbers, but what makes it so different from the others is it’s really creepy. Not only does a tragic, somber piano riff play throughout, but what makes it even worse is the subject matter. It may not be that easy to catch on your own, but thankfully Bellamy has stated that this song is about a man who has shot everyone and comes home realizing what he’s done. With this piece of information the song becomes really disturbing. Yet again, Matt has the ability to mask this darkness with his spine chilling falsetto.
Overall, the album gets 9.5/10. This is definitely one of the band’s best albums yet. Not only is it where they expand their sound, but they also begin to show their dark and more political songwriting. While you can find some of the rock oriented sound here, but most of the music is more piano based, with their classical influences coming through. While everyone may not agree with what Muse have done recently, it’s this album that shows what an amazingly talented band they are and that they always know how to shock and amaze people.