Though some may still consider them Radiohead mimics, obviously Muse continues to strike a nerve with their alternative hard rock audience, here releasing their third album of heavy guitars, haunted harmonics, and paranoid musings in Absolution. Frontman Matt Bellamy and company stick to the same disturbed, and sometimes disturbing, formula that's worked in the past: the emotional intensity and style of Radiohead, a rock thunder descended from Black Sabbath, and the baroque drama of Queen. Longtime producer John Leckie sits this one out, and in steps indie über-engineer Rich Costey. With Costey manning the desk, the music feels more polished and slick, but less epic and raw. Longtime fans won't miss a beat though, because Bellamy delivers the same Thom Yorke vocal impersonation for which he's known, and continues the same anthemic posturing he's lifted from Freddie Mercury. With song titles and subject matter fueled by fear of the apocalypse and worries about infidelities and random murders, the subject matter is as gloriously pretentious and lovably unlovable as ever. Newcomers to the band should expect killer guitars reminiscent of jackhammers and chainsaws, bloodcurdling choruses, and of course, tender passages of falsetto. A recurring motif of racing samplers suggests nothing less than a rock opera version of the score to Koyaanisqatsi, and then there are the occasional spooky moments where funky rhythms mingle with heavy metal guitars, suggesting a progressive Italian zombie flick soundtrack. There's little point in selecting highlights, because other than some slow moments that feel tacked on, there's not much variation in theme or mood. Many listeners will probably prefer to tackle the album in small doses, and only the most headstrong won't require a breather. Muse continues to make unrelenting hardcore art rock; Absolution is a tad cheesy, a bit too grandiose in its ambitions, bursting at the seams with too many ideas, and thus exactly what any Muse fan craves.
by Tim DiGravina