Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Review: Muse - Black Holes and Revelations

Muse's fourth album continues their tradition of somewhat over the top grandiose prog rock. But hey, that's why we like them! These guys are the antithesis to the stripped down garage band sound of the strokes, the nouveaux punk of the artic monkeys, and the 80s retro of the killers. If you like layered keyboards, driving complex base lines and lyrics that seem, well, contrived, then Muse is your band.

I saw them a when they were supporting their last album and they are spectacular (and loud). The material on the new album is pretty much pure Muse.

Starlight the second track is a pretty simple song with an almost dance like beat and cascading keyboard arppegios. A steady overdriven guitar riff powers through the chorus. If anything, the verse is too sweet?

Supermassive black hole has Prince style vocals which are then backed up by harmony - Purple rain meets Bohemian Rhapsody. Not the greatest track.

Map of the problematique. Despite the somewhat goofy title, this song is pretty good. A simple three note piano theme recurs throughout, and an urgent chord progression creates tension. Again, the dance beat crops up, although the drum spasms (middle eight and at the end) would probably clear the dance floor.

Soldier's poem. Hey, lets get a snare drum, play a scale on the piano and find a xylophone. Oh yeah, and lets copy the beach boys. On the other hand lets not. Ooops too late - we already did it.....

Invincible. You have to wait over three minutes for this one to get going and for a while it has hope. But the anthemic vocals start to grate after a while.

Assassin. By now I am craving some paint stripping, riff driven, drum pounding rock. Something that runs at a 200 bpm. Finally I get some. This one's pretty good.

Exo-politics. Standard Muse. Pretty good guitar rock.

City of Delusion. Time for some strings (violin flavour). Actually they add a pretty good tension to the song. The sweeping orchestral parts overlayed with the staccato and dry distorted guitar riff provide a nice contrast. Towards the end the trumpet line that recalls a spaghetti western seems rather out of place. To say that Muse attempts to cover all the musical bases would be somewhat of an understatement.

Hoodoo starts off with a taste of 50s surf guitar moves through a phantom of the opera phase... well you get the idea.

Knights of Cydonia. Does have horse sounds at the beginning and simulated hoofs. Once it gets going though it is pretty good. Queen like vocals keep cropping up, but this one is overall pretty good.

So the final conclusion. Well although you tend to expect that Muse will be all over the map, this time I think they went a little too far. This album is so unfocussed and some of the songs are almost bizarre in how many different themes they tried to cram in that I give it 6/10.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Eric Johnson (Cats Cradle, Aug 29, 2006)

Eric Johnson is a techinically brilliant guitarist - there is no doubt, but during parts of his show, I was beginning to wish he wasn't quite so good. Things came to a head at about 11pm when he played a 7 minute intro to Cliffs of Dover. Intro is probably a generous description, a better one might be to say that he basically played every scale pattern known to man, 30 times over. It was tedious. Boring and frankly annoying.

Up until that point, he was great - playing a range of new material - which sounded pretty good, a little hendrix (angel) and some country style jam. SRV was the highlight for me.

I have read other reviews that said he played a long encore which included Wind Cries Mary, but after the 7 minute display of scale patterns, I left and went home.

Next time - more music, less mindless arpeggios please.