Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Muse: The Resistance



Being a Muse fan, I have been looking forward to their new album, The Resistance, for a while.  It was finally released on September 14th, and, although a very strong effort, is a bit of a mixed bag.

Muse have long shown a penchant for flirting with excess; from the title track off 1999's Showbiz, to Origin of Symmetry's Rachmaninoff-esque Space Dementia, to the pseudo-epic Knights of Cydonia from their last outing.  Well, The Resistance is quite literally excess of symphonic dimensions.

The loud and funky Uprising opens the fare on a note which is rather, well, loud and funky.  It seems to pick up where Supermassive Black Hole left off and does little beyond proving that Muse haven't forgotten how to kick out a good din.  The opening bars feature a theremin-esque Phrygian melody which, lest my ears deceive me, reference the original Doctor Who theme music.  How prog!

The next two tracks, Resistance and Undisclosed Desires, left me a bit cold.  The former's preachy lyrics alienates and the latter can't seem to decide if it wants to be R&B or eighties' New Wave.  Desires' dubbed vocals and slap bass make me wonder if Bellamy's been shooting up with Dave Gahan.

The first major highlight of the album is the colossal United States of Eurasia.  Bellamy clearly wants to be both Brian May and Freddie Mercury on this track, with lushly multi-tracked vocal harmonies and a proper guitar solo that sounds like it was actually played through a VOX AC-30 amplifier.  Eurasia segues into the melancholic piano piece Collateral Damage - which is actually just a loose interpretation of Chopin's Nocturne in E flat major.

Guiding Light is another stand-out track.  Another eighties throwback, this tender power ballad enters the fray with reverbed snare drums and eventually delivers possibly my favourite guitar solo on Muse's entire discography.

The scary pipe organ opening Unnatural Selection promises much, but the song quickly devolves into a rather standard and pointless modern rock song.  MK Ultra left me equally bored.

I Belong to You/Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix made me feel as though I were listening to a tarantella in 4/4.  European folksy with a funk beat, it's fresh and interesting compared to the preceding couple of tracks.  It then develops into a montage of the popular aria from the French opera Samson et Dalila.  It also features a solo by what, I think, is a bass clarinet.  So good, so pretentious, so prog!

Finally we get to the album's big sell: the three-movement rock symphony Exogenesis.  An ambitious and long (close to fifteen minutes) piece featuring, I am told, over 40 musicians.  It evokes a calmer and more hopeful tone than the rest of the album.  If the prior eight tracks describe a world collapsing, then Exogenesis represents leaving it behind.  Traveling into the terrifying but promising unknown of deep space.  Entirely composed by Bellamy, it's his magnum opus and features more Chopin and Liszt inspired moments.  Stirring, clever, captivating and haunting.

The first half of the album is largely hit-and-miss featuring nothing we haven't heard before, while Exogenesis is so good that it could be boxed and sold on its own merits.  The Resistance is not a bad album by any means, but an album whose musical scope doesn't quite match the lofty heights of its concept.  Oh, and those pompous and preachy lyrics don't help.  Fantastic stuff, but progressive rock is all about doing something which is both good and inventive, and you won't find much of the latter here.

While I'm pleased with The Resistance, I'm hoping that for their next studio outing Muse return to playing to their strength, which is despondent, symphonic space-rock.

3.5 / 5


4 comments:

Nathan said...

Like your Review and agree with some of your statements. Not sure why your "anti" progressive rock though? Unnatural Selection is a brilliant song and another crowd pleaser for sure. Lyrically it's great too - not the greatest Muse track but great all the same.

calharding said...

Thanks for the comment.

To clarify, I'm definitely not "anti" progressive rock. I'm a huge progressive rock fan and my dusty, hard-won King Crimson LPs can attest to that! Perhaps because I'm a fan of the genre, I've got pretty high standards for it. I also like to think I'm accepting of the clichés and faults of prog rock.

For making what is, by my reckoning, a flat-out prog rock album I definitely applaud Muse and I'm an even bigger fan for it. Nonetheless, it's just shy of being the album it could've (and should've) been.

"Unnatural Selection" is a good example. To me it sounds almost as though they took some favourite parts from "New Born," "Megalomania," and "Agitated," then a dash of System of a Down, and combined them into a new track.

Perhaps that's another critique of some of the album's material (and I know I'm just being a pain in the butt at this point), but often they sound a little /too/ much like their influences. The pre-chorus to "Unnatural Selection" could've been written by Serj Tankian, and, of course, "United States of Eurasia" sounds like Queen in most ways. This is by no means necessarily a bad thing, as those are both brilliant bands - much like Muse itself.

Anyway, thanks again for the comment. You do make a good point, and though I do love "The Resistance," I hope to warm up to it even more with subsequent listens.

Nathan said...

Cool - I hear what your saying now. Good points too. Look forward to reading some more reviews.

spil said...

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and also spread to others about this video
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkGdH1AMJ94