Sunday, September 13th 2009
Three years after the release of Black Holes & Revelations, Muse’s critically acclaimed fourth album, comes The Resistance. Anticipation has been running high for Muse fans. Black Holes expanded the band’s horizon with several strong tracks in which the trio of Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenhome and Dominic Howard strayed from the usual, and from the most obvious expectations. Supporting the album with increasingly solid performances during an extensive tour, the stage has been set for a breakout masterpiece of a follow-up.
The Resistance opens unlike any previous Muse album. Uprising is not the standard, thickly layered, segmented epic opera gradually evolving to a chaotic ending; it is, in fact, a straightforward pop-rock tune that doesn’t stray far from previous hits like Time Is Running Out or Supermassive Black Hole.
The title track follows, featuring some unusual keyboard and drums that recall early U2, an apparent derivation only supported by a repetitive chorus and piano work reminiscent of New Year’s Day. Fortunately, it picks up a different tone towards the end, and after the vocal part is over, there is a great little ambient outro.
While those first two tracks are promising, the album takes a disappointing turn when Undisclosed Desires kicks in. Unlike anything done by the band in the past, this song bombards the listener with pop clichés: First it’s the keytar, then cheesy lyrics accompanied by an electronic beat that sounds like it was produced by Timbaland, and fucking slap bass. By the time the chorus hits you, you’re wondering why on Earth Muse decided that the combination was a good idea for anything other than a joke track that may have escaped the studio and leaked onto the Internet. This is the track that can divide most of the listeners. Some will be able to play along with it and accept the notion that the song has some decent pop hooks, while others will immediately jump ship.
Thankfully, Muse goes back into their trademark vein of excessive, Queen-esque progressive rock with United States Of Eurasia, a gloriously overblown track that, like so many of their songs before, starts quiet, explodes, goes completely insane, and ends with a soft outro. While it is mostly piano based, it does a great job of showing just what Muse is capable of when they focus on their strengths, much like Unnatural Seleciton, which shows up later on the album. The latter track, while also explosive, is guitar focused, loaded with heavy riffage from Matt Bellamy, and a surprisingly bluesy breakdown halfway through the song that suggests he may no longer be content with just making heavy songs.
These tracks, along with the first two, prove that Muse has worked hard on moving forward with their music, improving and evolving. Unfortunately, not everything on the album achieves the same mark.
It seems Muse sometimes loses the ability to discern the good, exhilarating type of excess from the bad, tiresome kind. Deep within Guiding Light, it’s easy to see there is a good melody, a cute ballad to ease out all the heavy tracks in the album. But that melody is buried under a wall of synths and loud drums that end up hiding the song’s true potential. Meanwhile, MK Ultra would be a swift kick of a heavy track, if it weren’t for a bunch of keyboards and vocal effects that intrude and seem quite out of place most of the time.
But nothing, not even Undisclosed Desires, can compare to the inappropriateness of the track I Belong to You (+Mon Cœur S’ouvre À Ta Voix). While it starts out just fine with a cheery piano, an annoying synth bass manages to make the first part of the song thoroughly irritating. Halfway through, the song breaks into a slower, yet grandiose, arguably better section, where Matt sings in French. Sure, perhaps his French isn’t top-notch, but this section is alright. In a perfect world, it would even be enough to save the song from completely sucking. Why doesn’t it? Well, as soon as the French singing is over, the worst parts of the first half make a full-blown comeback, throwing in a fucking clarinet solo. This completely kills the mood created by the section sung in French, as well as killing all hope of salvation for the song. I don’t know what the hell Muse was thinking when they decided any of this was a good idea, and the fact that they let something like this onto the album makes me worry about the band’s future.
To close the album, we have something that fans have been waiting for years: The Exogenesis Symphony. Since 2007, Matt Bellamy has been talking about a symphonic piece that was “too progressive for Black Holes & Revelations,” but could be recorded in the future. Later described as a “three-part thirteen-minute space rock epic,” it generated high expectations, trademark brazen pretentiousness notwithstanding. Finally, here is said piece, divided into three parts over thirteen minutes, with orchestral arranging written by Bellamy himself. And yes, it is a quality piece; but one that, most unfortunately, does not quite live up to the on-paper description. On one hand, Exogenesis is beautifully written and executed, and you can’t deny the care and attention to detail that went into the songs’ construction. On the other hand, no matter how perfectly played it is, it’s just not quite exciting enough to warrant such a long running time.
Exogenesis ends The Resistance with the somewhat mixed feelings that prevail throughout pretty much the entire album: Muse is a talented band, willing to constantly move forward and change their sound. When they succeed, it’s a blast, and the listener is grateful that the band didn’t settle for too long on a particular sound. However, when they fail, it feels as if Muse is trying to be different just for the sake of it. They seem to stage grand, pompous spectacles for the sake of being “that band,” a smirking tongue-in-cheek ridiculous caricature of the glam-rock space cadets that pulled it off with swagger. And on The Resistance, it’s these failures to focus that ultimately prevent the album from being the fantastic work that it could have been. While Muse knows their main strength lies within their ability to be excessive, one wishes that they would know better when enough of “too much” is enough.