Tag Archives: black holes and revelations

Muse – United States Of Eurasia

I’ve defended Muse in front of a fair bit of criticism over the years. While sniffy critics have derided them for their populist, stuck-in-the-past approach, I insisted that their craft was accomplished, ambitious and never lost touch with enjoyability. And now they have unleashed “United States Of Eurasia” on us…

So! The first six rounds of Muse’s latest treasure hunt have been completed, and with this success for the notoriously fervent and geeky Muse fan-base comes the prize: the complete upload of “United States Of Eurasia”, the fourth track on their forthcoming fifth album, entitled The Resistance. A lot has been written on fan-sites with each successive upload, but I’ve mostly reserved judgement on it, preferring instead to wait for the whole song to emerge – after all, it’s a bit ridiculous to assess a song based on a 30-second clip.

Sadly, for all its massive-grin-inducing pomp and bombast, I’m finding it difficult to endorse “United States Of Eurasia”. The song is an almost four-minute long romp through the more unpalatable reaches of Queen’s Ĺ“uvre, with the cavalcade of multi-tracked vocals, wailing guitars and thumping drums only slightly tempered by some tasteful East-European orchestral arrangements. It’s very low on subtlety, it’s very very BIG, and I’m still not sure whether I like it, or am simply smiling along with the undoubted audacity Muse are showing by creating such a throwback of a song.

The song begins with a light romantic piano accompaniment to Matt Bellamy’s vocals – at this point taking on an oddly gentle timbre – which is surprisingly reminiscent of the kind of supermarket dross conjured up by Coldplay. After a minute, soft, regular, percussion breaks into the mix, recalling memories of woeful 80s stadium ballads. Then, suddenly, at 1:17, a Brian May-style lead guitar line storms in and everything goes very Queen. Lest we get too comfortable, an actually pretty interesting orchestral arrangement is then unleashed, and before long the whole thing is rollicking along at a pace somewhere between “Knights Of Cydonia” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Predictably, it’s insanely catchy and hook-laden, and by the time the song explodes in a confetti-shower of multi-tracked vocal harmonies, screaming out “Eura-sia! Sia! Sia Sia!”, it’s bound to be pretty ingrained in your mind. Who knows? In a questionable indictment of the state of British music, it will probably be hailed as a novelty hit and roam around the higher reaches of the charts for weeks. I’d prefer to salute it as a relentless pastiche of an oft-trodden path, but whether or not I can actually approve it, I remain unsure.

Leaving Muse to their own devices, sans external producer, trapped in the basement studio of a villa on Lake Como, was never going to result in an album low on bombast – and only time will tell if the rest of The Resistance is similarly schizophrenic and cheesy. Reminiscing back to the days of Absolution, Muse were many things: pretentious, portentous, musically ambitious. But in “United States Of Eurasia” I see very little melodic accomplishment and a tendency for the band’s strengths to be overwrought into mere comedy, for all the ominous subtext of the song’s theme. That well-worn grin on my face is starting to hurt.

A Utopia For You To Live In

As Michael points out, I’ve so far refused the temptation of listening to the preview of Tonight: Franz Ferdinand on their MyFaceSpaceBook, and I think my reasons are pretty justified. For one thing, my pre-ordered 2-disc edition of the album has already been dispatched from Amazon (along with Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion). This immediately impressed me – I don’t think I’ve ever pre-ordered an album on Amazon before; if I do want to buy an album as soon as it’s released, I usually prefer to visit my local HMV (other record stores are available!) – because I should hopefully receive the album not too long after tomorrow, which is probably sooner than I could have hoped to visit a record store, judging by my packed schedule for the next few days.

I’ve been anticipating Franz Ferdinand’s third album for a very long time: in fact, pretty much as soon as I had finished listening to their second album, and I’m really hoping it’s been worth the lengthy gestation. Experience tells me that, when my expectations are so high, there is no better way of releasing all the suspense than to wait until I have the physical embodiment of the album in my hands, ready to be played in super stereo, the way it was intended, as opposed to the low bitrate/dodgy ethics of a MySpace listening party or a BitTorrent leak. My case in point is Muse’s Black Holes And Revelations, which was probably my most eagerly-awaited album of 2006. Though I did end up bussing it to HMV on the day of its release – and then promptly heading off to school – by that point, I had already heard it from half a dozen different sources and, in many ways, it wasn’t the best preparation. I had heard it so much, and heard so much about it, that when I actually listened to the thing properly, there were no surprises. I already knew the synthesiser trickery employed in several songs; I was already aware of the conspiracy theories referenced in the lyrics. It wasn’t actually that much fun, and so that’s why I’ve decided that abstinence is the best preparation this time round.

Having written all that, I must confess that, by some indistinct means, I have heard the album-version of “Lucid Dreams”, which is already being referred to as the highlight of the album, and clear proof that the band can take their music-to-make-girls-dance in a faithful electronic direction. Personally, I think it’s a tremendous piece of music, initially swaggering, then mind-boggling, finally hip-shaking and dancefloor-quaking. It’s not a million miles away from the works of Moroder and the like, but it’s still refreshing to hear an updating of the synth-tastic dance music of the 70s from a band who really do know their stuff. Judging by the reviews though, the rest of the album doesn’t entirely live up to the heady heights of “Lucid Dreams”, but I’m still hopeful.

AND IN OTHER NEWS

May I recommend Wilco’s “Impossible Germany”, taken from last year’s Sky Blue Sky album. The band’s sixth studio album was a much mellower affair than usual, taking much more inspiration from more traditional country music. It was critically panned, but one of the highlights in many reviewers’ eyes was “Impossible Germany”. It’s utterly gorgeous, and really shows off the lilting guitar work of Nels Cline. However, to gauge a true impression of Wilco’s more experimental, adventurous work, you can’t do better than getting a copy of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which was released in 2002 after various sagas between the band and their former record label. It’s extraordinary.

Enjoy!