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Muse began as Radiohead clones but over time, as if bulking up on rock’s equivalent of steroids, have grown big on grandeur and excess. Their latest album, which bears the preposterous name Black Holes and Revelations, is a florid mix of heavy metal, prog rock, electro-pop and as much Sturm und Drang as can be throttled from the neck of an electric guitar.
Held together by their engagingly eccentric singer Matt Bellamy, an enthusiast of outlandish conspiracy theories about aliens and government cover-ups, they manage to keep a straight face amid the bombast. If The Darkness were a joke that rapidly ran out of juice, Muse are a more interesting proposition: a band who are deadly serious about going over the top.
They have a reputation as one of Britain’s best live bands, and my expectation was whetted when I learnt that their show would begin with a spaceship taking off on stage. A spaceship? Cool! Except that it turned out to look more like a vast stove-top coffee pot festooned in lights. The rest of the stage show was equally unimpressive, just the odd vaguely spacey graphic on a backing screen and some large pink balloons, a low-budget tribute, perhaps, to Pink Floyd’s inflatable pigs.
The music was also less striking than I had hoped. Bellamy was a kinetic frontman, with his vocals resembling an operatic version of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, his guitar-playing a blur of superbly played solos and unselfconscious axe-hero poses, although his energy wasn’t enough to conquer the cavernous stadium stage. Some songs, such as “Supermassive Black Hole”, an extraordinary collision of funk and industrial rock, sung by Bellamy in a disco falsetto, were irrepressible. But others, despite their epic-seeming scope, were formulaic: rampant guitar arpeggios interspersed with lengthy passages of Nirvana-style riffing. This is odd to report of a band so enamoured of overkill, but Muse lacked drama.
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