Riff University: Map of the Problematique by Muse

All aboaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaardahahaha! Welcome to Riff University, where each week, Dr* Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler), with his PhD in Riffology** will walk you through some of the biggest, baddest and boldest riffs of all time, right from the genesis of rock and roll, to some of our future classics. By the end of this intensive course, you will be able to recognise a classic riff from the first note, make pub conversations awkwardly unbearable, and alienate Tinder matches from the word go.

*Abbreviation of “Dad Rock”
**Not a real PhD

Up This Week: Map of the Problematique by Muse

Read Last Week’s Lecture on Seek & Destroy by Metallica here.

Once upon a time, Muse were arguably the most powerful band in the world. Their space opera theatrics mixed with symphonic, heartbroken aggression, plus some big riffs, they made the world dance to their beat. Whilst yes, now they’re on the speed dial of every festival organiser, can sell out arenas with the flick of a wrist and shift records by the pallet, Muse reached their headiest heights in 2007, not long after the release of Black Holes & Revelations, as they took to the stage in Wembley Stadium, becoming the first band to sell out the “new” Wembley.

Your reaction to their name might be one of pure adoration, or pure disgust, but the run of four albums from Showbiz to Black Holes is full of absolute treats, with few songs across those records disappointing the senses. Many of you will likely argue that Absolution or Origin of Symmetry is the GOAT Muse album, and to be honest, you’d be right with either selection. However, Black Holes is not without its charms and is a handsome bronze medallist. Think Knights of CydoniaHoodoo and Assassin, and you can see why Black Holes is such a treasure. However, nothing post-Black Holes has come close to it, with The Resistance, The 2nd Law and Drones offering flashes of greatness, but nothing that could slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of Matt Bellamy.

But one song off that album is anecdotally regarded as the best Muse will ever produce, and whilst this is a lecture, not an op-ed, it’s hard to disagree with anyone who puts this song at the top of their list. That song? Map of the Problematique. The composers? Muse. The result? Shock and awe.

Let’s just dive in right away and look at the riff, shall we? It’s absolutely sublime. First of all, how the fuck does it work? Research suggests that as per Matt’s mid noughties guitar work, involves a lot of effects-based jiggery pokery, largely focused around the Digitech Whammy, a particular favourite Mr Bellamy, and a Molten Midi 2, based on what Equipboard, a few YouTubers and a few live performances can tell us. Sorry to break the Magician’s Code on that particular riff, but peeking behind the curtain is the whole point of the series.

The result of tech wizardry is an octaved, harmonised riff that rattles around your brain as the notes crack through the sky like lightning. Couple that with the gently tapped piano, thundering drums and scratchy, choral sounds exploding through the song, the opening of Map of the Problematique paints an image of lightning breaking through a darkened sky, the white hot light of the bolts mixing with the inky blue of the night to create a midnight purple that illuminates the night sky. The use of a delayed, ocatved effect is prominent through the whole song, and has a real Depeche Mode feel to it.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyLx0qc_gKc]

You’ll probably have a favourite Muse song, but it’s hard to find a song more polished, refined and perfect than Map. The title comes from the 1972 book, The Limits to Growth, commissioned by Club of Rome, a think tank. The book talks of a “map of the problematique”, referencing to a “global problematique”, or a set of catastrophic problems that will face the world in years to come (See also: Trump: The Art of the Deal). The opening line refers to “Fear, and panic in the air”, which Wikipedia reckons is a reference to Mars, with Mars’ two moons being Phobos and Deimos, the Greek gods of fear and panic (not to be confused with comedy duo Pain & Panic from 1997’s Disney classic Hercules). Not a bad shout considering that the cover is shot on a red plane, maybe Mars, Cydonia is on Mars, and members of the band have been enjoying Mars bars[Citation Needed].

However, Map is unarguably about the faltering relationship between Bellamy and his then girlfriend. First and foremost, the first verse doesn’t exactly scream “Lad’s Holiday to Mars!” now does it? It instead paints a picture of the protagonist struggling with their relationship, and the feeling of hopelessness in failing to get things right.

“Fear, and panic in the air // I want to be free from desolation and despair // and I feel, like everything I sow is being swept away // well I refuse to let you go” 

Whilst Wikipedia argues that pain and pan- fuck – fear and panic refer to the two moons of Mars, “fear, and panic” in this context could refer to the fear that the protagonist’s efforts aren’t good enough for their lover, and panic that the relationship will be swept away as a result of it.

The chorus isn’t much of a picnic either, with the protagonist bringing their beau into the song:

“I can’t get it right // get it right // since I met you”

Three little lines, but it’s a very relatable chorus, it’s fair to say that in the midst of a rocky patch in a relationship, we’ve all felt that we can’t get it right, no matter how hard we try. Interestingly, since the eventual collapse of Matt’s relationship, he altered the last chorus to “since I lost you”, implying that either he, or the protagonist in the song still wrestles with the same demons that they did when with their lover. or that without them in their life, they struggle to live with the same vitality they did when with them. Arguably, this should have been reflected in the studio version of the song to add extra poignancy, but, none of us are members of Muse, unless you’re a member of Muse, then hello!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0o2qwYeXBHY]

The use of a delayed, stuttered midi effect is also prevalent in the bridge in the chorus, moving the protagonist to plead:

“Loneliness be over, when will this loneliness be over?”

This is pretty poignant, as the protagonist feels alone in their own relationship, maybe through the rockiness in their relationship, they’re not speaking, and that can be an exceedingly lonely time. However, the poignancy and eternal romantic struggle, as the stuttered riff comes back in with some thumpy-ass drums, moving into a really dance-heavy section of the song, but still carries the gloomy lyrical theme of the first verse into the second, if not gloomier as the tone gets lower.

“Life, will flash before my eyes // so scattered almost // I want to touch the other side // and the world, thinks they are to blame // why can’t we see, that when we bleed, we bleed the same?”

Sort of like a real-life professor interpreting a body of work, it could be argued that wanting to “touch the other side” loosely refers to the protagonist taking their own life. Considering the gloom that envelopes them and their struggle to find happiness, or do right in their relationship, going to the other side may have become an option. For a song with such a pacey tempo & dancey structure, it’s pretty fucking dark.

Something that really stands out though is the last line before the final chorus

“Why can’t we see, that when we bleed, we bleed the same?”

In the context of the song it’s pretty hard to see what Bellamy means. Is it the protagonist trying to reach through their lover, in that both of them not communicating or seeking to destroy their relationship is destroying them at the same time? However, in a wider context, this line has a lot of poignancy, largely because we’re all human, we’re all of the human race, but the marginalisation of select groups, growing wealth inequality and rise of far-right rhetoric has caused multiple schisms in our collective human race. But if you were to cut us, we would all bleed the same red blood, just that some groups are cut more than others, and others can afford to be cut.

Again, this theory is probably GCSE-level philosophy at its maxim, but there’s something about that line that’s extra meaningful.

But the poignancy of Map’s lyrical theme, plus the perfectly polished production and composition of the track is what makes it one of, if not the best Muse songs ever written. The intricacy of the riff and similarities to Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode is what really makes it stand out. The upped tempo of the riff gives it a real uniqueness as well, and something that you won’t really find elsewhere in Muse’s back catalogue. Lyrically, Muse were really in their own in the mid noughties, especially with Absolution, but even more especially with Black Holes. You only need to look at the depth of songs like Hoodoo, Take a Bow and Invincible to see that the band had a real knack for writing meaningful songs back in the day.

Fingers crossed that with whatever Muse are up to this year in terms of studio time, they manage to bottle some of the magic that Map of the Problematique offered, and produce a song that bursts through the sky like violent lightning.

 

 

 

Killer Finales: Albums That Finish With Their Strongest Tracks

Whether your album goes on for an hour or ten minutes, the general rule of thumb is to finish things with a bang rather than a fizzle. Sure, there are a handful of albums that could be considered one of the greatest whose best track is somewhere in the middle (hell, maybe all the tracks are so great it’s hard to pick a definitive one) but that’s not what we’re talking about today. So strap yourselves in folks because today, the good folk of blinkclyro are going to go through a host of favourites that made sure to bow out in the best way possible.

The Velvet Underground – Sister Ray
White Light/White Heat

17 and a half minute long epitome of the legendary band’s sophomore avant garde quest to create something new from the thunderous noise rock they hammer out via tribal drums, buzzing organs and melting guitars – so brutal the producer walked out half way through the recording, but so very good.

Josh Adams (@jxshadams)

The National – Mr November
Alligator

The ultimate send-off for the album which represented a turning point in their careers, the twilight zone of a band on the verge of critical and commercial success. An explosive 4-minute distillation of everything they’ve done up to that point, Matt’s voice nears breaking point as he yells “I won’t fuck us over / I’m Mr November” with steely conviction.

Kieran Cannon (@kiercannon)

Carly Rae Jepsen – Roses
EMOTION SIDE B

WILDCARD BITCHES! Nothing omitting a cheeky wee b-side album, not as long as I’m running this site, which means the once meme turned queen of Partrician can make an appearance with this stunning track. If you’re gonna title two of your albums with EMOTION then you gotta show it and Roses just oozes heartbreak, whether it be the flower imagery or Jepsen’s vocals that at times sound like she has a legitimate lump in her throat. 

-Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr)

The Clash – Train In Vain
London Calling

Initially elided from the track listing and kept as a secret cut on the record, The Clash opted to close out their sprawling, genre-swinging double album London Calling with a modest breakup song. Detailing the dissolved relationship between vocalist Mick Jones and Viv Albertine of The Slits, the band turn their politically keen focus inward. Easily the most personal song on the album, Jones reaches an invaluable epiphany in the throes of his heartbreak: “You don’t understand my point of view/ I suppose there’s nothing I can do.”

-Sean Hannah (@shun_handsome)

Fatherson – Foreign Waters
I Am An Island

Just sums up Fatherson and their debut in every way possible. Slow, sad moments mixing with huge chorus and drum – throw in the addition of the wee 2 minute hidden track at the end and you’ve got a superb finale.

– Gregor Farquharson (@grgratlntc)

Radiohead – Motion Picture Soundtrack
Kid A

So much has been said and written about the icy atmosphere of that record and MPS continues this to the n-th degree with the chilling organ backdrop, however the twinkling harp that comes in combines with some of Thom’s best ever vocals to bring a beautiful sense of humanity to the record, and “I will see you in the next life” has to be the best album-closing lyric ever.

-Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)

Gaslight Anthem – National Anthem
Handwritten

An album that shows so much ‘in your face’ guitar angst is closed perfectly with a delicate, emotional ballad. It shows the versatility of their sound & that they have much more to offer than riffs, hooks & drum fills – for me, this is the peak of the most rounded album The Gaslight Anthem have ever put out.

-Callum Thornhill (@cal_thornhill )

Biffy Clyro – Now The Action Is On Fire
Vertigo Of Bliss

It (somehow) manages to condense everything that made very early Biffy so special into one song. It has a bit of everything, a frantic string section, some of the best vocals the trio had ever and will ever put down, some gloriously heavy instrumentation and weird as fuck lyrics that were fast becoming a signature part of the Biff’s repertoire. It’s bombastic, loud and by all accounts it shouldn’t work but THAT’S why it’s so good. In a word, masterful.

-Jake Cordiner (@jjjjaketh)

Arctic Monkeys – 505
Favourite Worst Nightmare

At this point in their career 505 was the most emotionally bare Turner’s lyrics had been and still today remains arguably their best song and suitably ends most of their sets with that unforgettable riff sounding better each time you hear it. On an album where the band improved in every way, 505 embodies that change during its climax.

-Ethian Woodford (@human_dis4ster)

Muse – Knights Of Cydonia
Black Holes & Revelations

The epitome of bombastic rock and roll grandeur, from the giant opening stabs to the infamous “No one’s gonna take me alive” bridge/ending, it could be used as a blueprint to end an album. It’s overblown, in your face and pompous, making it the perfect song for the credits to roll.

– Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Death Grips – Hacker
The Money Store

Described by cuindependent.com as “the moment when all shit breaks loose and all that’s left to do is riot”, Hacker is the point in Death Grips’ career where they realised that they were the shit and wanted everyone to know about it. They’re in your area, whether you fucking like it or not. 

-Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr)
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Track Review: Muse – Dig Down

By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

The blessing and, indeed, curse with being a Muse fan is that you never exactly know which band is going to show up. On the one hand, you might get the symphonic aggression soundtracking a battle in a far away galaxy, or you might get something that’s like your Conservative voting auntie: extremely hard to get on with. In the case of brand new single Dig Down, you’re going to have to spend the next four or so minutes listening to your auntie complain about poor people.

The song bears a striking resemblance to 2012’s synthy love song Madness off The 2nd Law, which was okay-ish. Whilst live performances, time and reluctant acceptance that it’s an okay song have helped to age that song, it’s still one of the lesser songs Muse have offered over their decorated career.

Much like it’s mad cousin, Dig Down is a synth heavy song, with most of the song purely relying on the heavy bass synth and electronic drums, with Matt Bellamy‘s guitar only kicking in with a bastardised Queen solo towards the end of the song. Which Queen solo has been bastardised is unknown, but actually getting Brian May to play the solo would have given this song some more credibility, and taken his mind off of the poor badgers. Whilst the song is something different, it’s not too far away from any synth-based song that Muse produce, and is as mentioned above, incredibly similar to Madness.

Despite being an underwhelming single from a yet-to-be-announced, yet-to-be-titled upcoming album, the lyrical theme is very on the pulse in Dig Down, something that Matt Bellamy has been very good at throughout the years. In a time where we’re dealing with Brexit, Trump, Impending Nuclear Holocaust and Oh Fuck No Five More Years of the Fucking Tories, this song acts as a sombre call to arms, one where we can, yes, Dig Down and find a way, face the firing squad, against all the odds. It’s a very relevant and topical song from a lyrical point of view at least.

Is this song a bad song? No, not at all: it’s something different, but it feels a little underwhelming, as if it’s been half-finished. Seeing as Drones came out just over two years ago, there’s no real expectation for Muse to be releasing new material, and it feels like they could have spent a little longer on this song to make it that little better. Whilst Muse arguably hit their peak around 2006’s Black Holes and Revelations, the weight of their stardom should allow them to spend a bit more time on writing and recording, but Dig Down feels a bit rushed and a bit underwhelming. Whilst ‘Musers’ such as matt_bellamys_codpiece and domhowardshagmyarse will undoubtedly declare this song to be a masterpiece, this song will fail to draw in lapsed fans who fell off the wagon around the Black Holes era.

5/10


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BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend 2015 Review, 23/05/2015 – 24/05/2015

Festival season is coming.

Soon the flower head dresses will be donned, the tents miserably pitched up and the cliché face-paint put on by every guy in sight (happy/sad to admit I did the same at T last year). With Glastonbury just under a month away, the BBC have got music fans hyped for the season ahead with their annual Big Weekend event which graced Glasgow last year. This year it was Norwich’s turn and god did they luck out, with what is probably the best line up the event has ever had. Unfortunately I never got tickets but this didn’t stop me from enjoying the coverage provided by BBC Three from the comfort of my bed. Instead of giving you a Top 10 style list a la WatchMojo, I’m just gonna give my thoughts on the different acts I managed to catch over the weekend. As always, this is my own opinion and my favourites and least favourites are gonna differ from yours. Regardless, let’s get started.

Foo Fighters
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R
ight let’s get something out of the way first: I’m not a fan of Sonic Highways. Maybe it was the hype, maybe it was the fact it played it too safe even though it’s the band’s eighth record, it just didn’t sit well with me. However, as soon as Dave Grohl and co. came on stage, as soon as he welcomed the crowd and started playing the opening chords to Everlong, none of that mattered. It was like being transported back to the very first time I listened to their greatest hits compilation and I loved every second of it. This feeling lasted through the entire set, a true testament to the band’s ability to perform. Watch out Glastonbury, you’re in for a treat.

Muse
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Saturday’s main stage headliner were none other than Muse, a band who, like Foo Fighters, have been a favourite of mine for as long as I’ve been a fan of music. However just like Foo Fighters, their recent music has been rather disappointing in comparison to their older material but regardless of the fact that they’ve nearly been around for as long as I’ve been alive, they still know how to put on a show. Their setlist showcased some tracks off  upcoming album Drones with Psycho being a highlight, accompanied by a drill sergeant appearing on a screen behind them yelling as if he was saying to the crowd directly if they were ready. Closing track Knights Of Cydonia was a real treat for fans, regardless if they were new or old, leaving those who attended satisfied as well as excited for June 8th when the band’s new album drops.

Alt J
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I’ll admit now that I was worried about this one. I love Alt J to bits, An Awesome Wave effortlessly making its way into my favourite debut albums list that’s unofficially written in my mind. However the odd vocal style and even odder sound that the band have has always had me questioning whether or not it can transfer to the stage well. Thankfully after the Miley Cyrus featuring Hunger Of The Pine and the even more mesmerizing Fitzpleasure, my worries were laid to rest. As off as some of the vocal performances may have been at times, to me it added to the band’s unique charm. Predictably enough the Leeds boys finished with Breezeblocks, a crowd and fan favourite which is just as much an anthem as you’d expect, resulting in a surprisingly sweet set by the band.

Jamie T
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I
t’s odd to think that Jamie T is actually back. For 4 years after his sophmore album Kings & Queens he just disappeared, fans left wondering what had happened to him and if he was ever gonna come back. Unbeknown to fans though, he was crafting 140 songs with only 12 getting hand-picked for 2014’s critically acclaimed Carry On The Grudge. The luck has continued for the Wimbledon boy with a set of festival appearances lined up, Big Weekend being the lucky one to host him first and he didn’t half arse it. There’s not much I could say that could do his performance justice as it was hands down my favourite of the weekend but I’ll try my best. Sheila, an indie anthem in its own right, had the crowd chanting along as Jamie controlled the crowd without any effort needed and this continued during the remainder of the set, especially during If You’ve Got The Money. There was some quiet moments during the atmospheric Don’t You Find as well as Emily’s Heart, both highlighting the natural skill Jamie T has as a songwriter. This performance showed why his albums will no doubt stand the test of time and why Jamie T is one of the most exciting and talented acts Britain has to offer.

Taylor Swift
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Confession time here: I used to hate Taylor Swift. Maybe it was cause I was 15 at the time and at that age you tend to jump onto whatever seems cool at the time, as proved by the Gangnam Style phase which was a dark time for us all. In my defence though I think it was because I didn’t like the style of music she was going for at the time with her country sound which in itself is a pretty Marmite genre. However her opening track We Are Never Getting Back Together was a glimpse of things to come when it was released on 2012 album Red and I’m not ashamed to admit how much I enjoyed it. Other tracks off last year’s surprisingly great album 1989 went down well with the crowd and if this performance was just Swift getting prepared for her BST gig next month then we should all be really excited.

Slaves
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Fun little story: back in November I was off to see Biffy in London and as such I was excited to say the least. When I heard that a little Kent duo called Slaves were one of the support acts, I didn’t think about it twice. Who would have known they’d become one of my favourite bands at the moment and take the music scene by storm. Their performance on the In New Music We Trust stage was a testament to the sheer power the duo can deliver, enough to put Royal Blood to shame. From White Knuckle Ride to closing track Hey, Slaves kept me entertained via the TV more than most acts I’ve saw live. The stories that vocalist Isaac told alongside bandmate Laurie had me laughing as well as intrigued, something that a lot of acts only wish they could do. If you get the chance to see this band live then do not miss out, you’ll heavily regret it.

And more…..
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I managed to watch a lot of acts over the weekend but the 6 above were my stand outs favourites. There were some other great artists there such as Fall Out Boy whose golden oldie tracks managed to outweigh the mediocre new ones. Florence + The Machine as always put on a stunning performance packed to the brim with quality that is now expected of them and will surely come in handy at Glastonbury. Lastly The Vaccines  put on a rather good performance as well, nicely tying into the release of their album English Graffiti today. BBC’s Big Weekend was well worth watching and with even more festivals on the way, music fans have more than enough entertainment sorted for the summer.

What were your favourites acts? Did you have a least favourite? Comment below or tweet me @blogclyro , thanks for reading to the end!

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