Muse, Absolution

I had to check the disc to make sure I was hearing Matt Bellamy sing and not Thom Yorke, but I was, and I meant that in a good way. One of the better prog outings so far during this turn-of-the-21st renaissance, at their finest ("Apocalypse Please," "Blackout," the classical piano of "Butterflies and Hurricanes" and the paranoiac closer "Ruled By Secrecy") the vocals, rafter-high harmonies and effervescent, atmospheric orchestration (even an explicit entracte and interlude) are everything a revanchist rock mannerist would desire — with a Storm Thorgerson cover to boot. They didn't forget the rockers either ("The Small Print") nor the softer moments ("Endlessly"). The fifth star falls off for some intermittent stylistic issues; headliner single "Stockholm Syndrome" doesn't know if it wants to be symphonic or slamming and "Falling Away With You" and "Hysteria" have too much grit and not enough texture. But an album that flirts this much with religion and theology even as it includes the "Thoughts of a Dying Atheist" ("it scares the hell out of me/and the end is all I see") clearly aspires to greater thematic depths than most other pop. On that level, it succeeds handsomely. (Content: no concerns.)