Muse’s third studio album, Absolution, received universal critical and commercial success. It hit number one in the UK album charts (the first of Muse’s records to do so), it had been included in numerous ‘best album of all time’ lists and it has gone triple platinum in the UK (as well as Gold in the US). And upon a first listen, it’s not hard to see why.
Muse’s sound is completely unlike anything else, always totally varied and immeasurably clever. Tracks like ‘Time Is Running Out’ and ‘Hysteria’ are stonking alternative rock songs. They’re colossal anthems, made for the huge venues Muse went on to play, but they’re also astutely written, with impossibly catchy riffs and unique instrumental lines. These two songs in particular stand out amongst other rock singles, both at the time and now 12 years on from the release of Absolution. They’re memorable and catchy, something which has happened less and less as Muse’s music has progressed (I’d argue the last track that achieved that kind of status would be ‘Knights of Cydonia’ on the 2006 release Black Holes and Revelations).
The influence of Russian composer, Sergei Rachmaninov, was prolific in Muse’s previous album, 2001’s Origins of Symmetry, but this influence appears once again on Absolution, particularly in the song ‘Butterflies and Hurricanes’. The piano solo midway through the track is full of crunchy, complex chord changes and flowing arpeggios, which sound like they could have been written by Rachmaninov himself. The intelligence of the musical writing, like in ‘Butterflies and Hurricanes’, is a theme across all of Muse’s music, but particularly on this album. The huge range of influences that are weaved into the rich tapestry that is Absolution are eclectic, from orchestral music to electronica to rock.
Lyrically, Absolution spans a huge amount of content. From happiness and personal fulfillment to apprehension and suspicion, as well as the Iraq war, front man and lyricist Matt Bellamy doesn’t shy away from any difficult subjects. Speaking at the time to music critic Gene Stout, Bellamy said: “The biggest anti-war protests in history were going on outside our [London] studio, it was impossible to ignore, and the direction of our songwriting took a sharp turn in the middle of it all.” Influenced by what was going on at the time Absolution is much more than the average rock album.
Absolution is still one of the greatest, if not, most interesting, alternative rock albums ever released. Muse didn’t try to follow the trends; instead they tried something new and created an intelligent, intellectual album, which is just as successful today than when it was first released.
Absolution was released on the 15th of September, 2003 via Mushroom and A&E Records.