Review: ‘The Resistance’ by MusePosted: September 26, 2009
I was aware of Muse for awhile, but didn’t start listening to most of their catalog until the end of college. The first few songs to catch my attention were some of the odder ones, namely “Apocalypse Please,” a densely layered arrangement of piano, guitars, high-pitch vocals, and high-speed drum fills. These weren’t the songs that made me a fan though. Songs like “Hyper Music,” “Plug In Baby,” or “Knights of Cydonia” had unbelievably catchy main riffs that weren’t terribly hard to play and sounded great. That’s what hooked me on the band — guitar-driven rock that was just plain fun to play. That was really all I ever wanted or expected from the band.
Muse has always been compared to Radiohead but that never seemed a fair comparison. There’s only three similarities as far as I can tell (1) both bands are British; (2) both have vocalists with a somewhat high, somewhat quavering tone; and (3) Muse’s “Falling Away With You,” which sounds so much like Radiohead, I often forget it isn’t Radiohead when my iPod is on shuffle. I always thought Muse had more in common with groups like Rush or Queen. Muse lacks Radiohead’s subtlety, but makes up for it with bombast and infectiously enjoyable ridiculousness. Radiohead wouldn’t write a song about an epic battle with a robotic space dragon, but for Queen or Muse, that’d be par for the course.
(See below the video for “Knights of Cydonia,” which includes ludicrously named kung fu techniques, Old West shoot-outs with lasers, A binkini-clad woman on a unicorn, and mustaches.)
It’s not a glam rock parody, a la The Darkness. It’s still being played straight, but with a wink to the audience, reminding us how much fun songs like “Princes of the Universe” were.
I think this is why the recently released The Resistance initially feels like a bit of a let-down. The music is more complicated, more self-serious, and less fun. The opening track, “The Uprising,” is the only one to sport the sort of boot-stomping rock energy I’d expect from Muse, but even that gets somewhat soiled by lyrics that appear to be influenced by singer/guitarist Matt Bellamy’s beliefs about a 9/11 conspiracy:
The PR transmissions will resume,
They’ll try to push drugs to keep us all dumbed down,
And hope that we will never see the truth around,
Another promise, another seed,
Another packaged lie to keep us trapped in greed,
With all the green belts wrapped around our minds,
And endless red tape to keep the truth confined,
The album is experimental, I’ll give it that, but it jumps in so many directions at once, sometimes within the same song, that I don’t really know what to make of it. There’s “Undisclosed Desires,” where Muse suddenly sounds like Depeche Mode or New Order. There’s “Guiding Light,” which could easily have come from U2. There’s two piano ballads with awkward titles, the Queen-like “United States of Eurasia (+Collateral Damage)” and the poppy, half-French, self-referencing “I Belong to You [Mon Couer S’Ouvre a Ta Voix].” To top it all off, the album ends with a three-track 13-minute symphony called “Exogenesis,” which alternates (more seamlessly than you’d expect) between classical piano and arena rock.
The first listen will likely leave you thinking, “Well… that was weird.” I initially figured this review would boil down to little more than “I have no idea what to make of this.” Subsequent listens have cleared up my view a little, and ultimately the album’s excess has begun to grow on me. The video below is for “United States of Eurasia (+ Collateral Damage).” The abrupt increase in volume at 1:18 sounded cheesy (and VERY reminiscent of Queen) during the first few listens, but somewhere in the review-writing process the cheesiness became endearing.
In many ways the overwritten songs have held up better. On my first listen, “Unnatural Selection” stood out as the only track that sounded as if it could’ve come from the old Muse: fast, heavy guitar rock with a very distinct riff. But there isn’t much depth to the song. The guitar work is too precise and too sterile, not the more distorted and more energetic sound the band has had in its early albums. “Unnatural Selection” was an early favorite, but I’ve been listening to it less and less. On the flipside, “I Belong to You [Mon Couer S’Ouvre a Ta Voix]” has grown on me because of it’s weirdness: an upbeat rhythm over minor chords and vocals that breaks into a classical-sounding middle section with French lyrics, then leads into a clarinet solo (not sure about this, this is my best guess on the instrument) before returning to its poppy beginning. Sound completely unpalatable doesn’t it? Somehow, it works, or maybe I’ve just listened to it so many times trying to figure it out what the hell it is that I’ve lost my mind and fallen for it.
Not sure how much I’ll return to this album, but I do have to give Muse credit. Since an unhealthy portion of the band’s American fanbase knows them as “the band that did that song in Twilight,” I was worried they’d release an album of “Supermassive Black Hole” soundalikes. They didn’t, thankfully, opting for instead for an hour of music that recklessly alternates between insane and excellent.