Muse first stormed American shores in the late '90s as part of the post-Radiohead boom in "big music" Britpoppers, but those who haven't paid much attention to the band since then can get a quick update by listening to "Take A Bow," the first song on the new Muse album Black Holes & Revelations. Starting with a spacey synthesizer fanfare and a deep, quavery vocal from bandleader Matthew Bellamy, the song gradually shifts into triumphant dance-pop, and then into outright Euro-trash bombast, complete with Queen-style harmonies, scorching electric guitar, and screechy lines like "You'll burn in hell for your sins." It's a prog-rock nightmare: pretentious, cacophonous, and thoroughly old-world.
Black Holes & Revelations contains some more conventional modern-rock songs, like the chugging, piano-draped "Starlight" and the trembly acoustic hymn "Soldier's Poem," and the album has an odd Spanish lilt overall, manifesting in the mariachi-horn interlude in "City Of Delusion" and the raw flamenco guitar in "Hoodoo." But mostly, the Muse of '06 is concerned with constructing shiny, dark-hued piledrivers, meant to knock listeners flat. This is a very imposing kind of music, full of operatic flourish and lyrics about violent times and cosmic retribution. Give Muse credit for remaking itself over the years into a full-blown theatrical experience, and not just another echoing rock band. But that experience is, frankly, kind of shitty.