A mighty return

So Muse are back with what has already become yet another chart topping album, confirming their position as one of the most popular and important British rock bands of recent times. However some traditionalists may be finding this a more challenging listen than they've previously been used to, for Muse have taken the opportunity to explore new ideas and fulfil creative ambitions with 'Black Holes and Revelations'.

The album was recorded in the middle of nowhere in the South of France, mixed in New York and took in a brief visit to Italy, with each location having its own effect on the overall product.

The first hint of what was to come, came in the form of 'Super Massive Black Hole'; a funk and disco inspired track that even saw some suggest this was as near as Muse would come to making a Britney Spears record. No prizes for guessing it was New York that rubbed off on the production of what became the band's biggest hit single to date. Matt Bellamy even took some time out while in the US to DJ in a couple of New York nightspots.

So with Muse going a bit Scissor Sisters on us, all be it with some killer catchy guitar rifts to give it that harder edge, the anticipation awaiting the rest of the record had a touch of nervousness about it.

On reflection Muse fans need not have worried, for there is enough classic Muse on this record to keep the die-hards happy. For the rest of us, this is a multi-layered musical exploration that sees us presented with one of 2006's strongest releases.

The album opens in the way all great rock records should, with a track that suggests a stunning launch pad for their forth-coming live shows. 'Take A Bow' takes you on a musical journey, reaching a heavy climax before leading into one of the most Muse-like moments on the album. 'Starlight' is a piano-led, direct and effective attempt at creating a track with all the attributes to be a mainstream smash.

As well as pushing back the boundaries in terms of their musical ambitions, this record has a collection of politically motivated songs that don't just stick to the usual rock ritual of Bush and Blair bashing.

'Map of The Problematique' shares its title with a map that is published each year showing the world's problems and their locations. 'Soldier's Poem', one of the band's most mellow moments to date, is written from the viewpoint of a soldier forced to fight for something which he doesn't believe in. Meanwhile the oddest is 'Exo-Politics', which is the name of a website set up by a former Canadian minister who thinks America is building weapons in space to fight off aliens.

As the record progresses, the band enter into their most musically experimental mood. 'City of Delusion' has a heavy Italian influence to its sound, and 'Hoodoo' features a flamenco guitar. The album reaches a powerful and dramatic rock climax with 'Knights of Cydonia', another which makes you long to see them play it live.

So Muse have pulled it off once again. Always looking to develop their sound and try new and interesting ideas, those who fail to appreciate this simply don't understand the way the band approaches its work.