Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Review Day: HAARP

H.A.A.R.P. is the latest release from Muse -- a CD/DVD set from a live concert at Wembly Stadium in the UK. I'm usually not a fan of live CDs and I was disappointed with their previous live album, Hullbaloo Soundtrack, which was full of audience noise, rougher less crowd-pleasing B-sides, and an imbalanced mix of vocals under the guitars. This time, however, I was pleasantly surprised.

The CD offers 70 minutes of hits from all four of their major albums (favouring the most recent ones), and the DVD is a well-edited hour-and-a-half extract of the concert in 5.1 surround sound (including everything that's on the CD plus 6 more songs). The whole package can be found for $14 retail or as little as $9 on Amazon Marketplace.

Muse walks the fine line between hard rock and heavy metal, although they've moved towards electronica with their recent work. The trio obviously has a decent musical background, shown off in their improvisational segments, playing tunes in different keys, and their harmonies (probably the only rock band I've ever heard to regularly use a minor-major 7th chord).

The live performance highlights just how well their arrangements and performances hold up and how little they rely on studio clean-up. Songs like Hysteria (YouTube) are just as driving and tightly-wound in a live performance, and the band members are obviously having a blast performing (the bass player just looks happy to be there). Performance camp is pretty low, as the group has thankfully moved on from their constant headbanging stage. It's also neat to see how famous the group is in the UK, with the entire stadium packed with fans.

Every song is performed as if it's the most important song you'll ever hear in your lifetime -- the band marches in to the strains of Prokofiev's "Dance of the Knights" from Romeo and Juliet, followed by the motive from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" before diving right into "Knights of Cydonia" (YouTube). After several recent hits, the seminal "Butterflies and Hurricanes" makes an appearance (YouTube). In particular, watch the segment from 2:50 to 4:40, where Matthew Bellamy trades in his guitar to do the Romantic-era piano flourish.

The quiet, more intimate pieces get more air time on the DVD than the CD, although both media include "Unintended" from their first album (0:56 MP3).

Final Grade: A+, jam-packed with high-quality treats

Don't forget that tomorrow is 12 of 12!

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