Muse – The Resistance (2009)

Abba, Bowie, Queen, Floyd.

If I were to be uncharitable, I’d say go away, listen to the above four instead of buying ‘The Resistance’. However, there’s a lot more going on here than the sum of those (admittedly immense) parts – apart from the lashings of metal, the nods to classical music that most Muse fans would probably never have listened to (come on – Saint-Saens? Chopin? – and that’s just the stuff interpolated on this album) and the interesting diversions into R’n’B – there’s serious ambition.

Muse have been political since ‘Absolution’, with their previous albums focusing more on the self, than the downtrodden people of the world – here, it’s a full blown sci-fi-thriller concept album.  Apart from ‘Black Swan’, mentioned in the incredibly cool iTunes LP liner notes as the inspiration for ‘Unnatural Selection’, ‘1984’ and Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ series form the majority of the literary influences here. ‘Uprising’ is a cracking opener, with lines like “Paranoia is in bloom/The PR transmissions will resume/They’ll try to push drugs that keep us all dumbed down” leading to a chorus of “They will not control us” over a thumping chugging bass and synth beat – yup, ‘Black Holes and Revelations’ was just the template, sonically, for ‘The Resistance”s bombast.

‘Resistance’ is a sweeter song, albeit making the serious point about love conquering all religious or political boundaries, and is based directly on the romance at the heart of ‘1984’. Pianos, rollicking drums and upbeat backing vocals make me want to proclaim this from the top of a mountain, possibly looking rather windswept. Expect to see this at slightly alternative weddings near you soon. In contrast, ‘Undisclosed Desires’ is for the indie kids looking to learn to dance, and dance dirty – taking ‘Time Is Running Out’ and ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ to the next logical step, Muse have gone all out to knock Beyonce off the top of her dubious chart crown, and if they weren’t so utterly serious, it’d be ironic. You know, I don’t care – it’s R’n’B Jim, but definitely not as we know it.

The whole thing gets incredibly pretentious, however, with ‘United States of Eurasia (Collateral Damage)’ – another Orwell nod, this is “influenced by Ravel, Tchaikovsky and 1970’s singer/songwriter string arrangements’ – well, eventually, but the kick in is pure Queen, right down to the precise squeal of the guitars. Still, the pianos and orchestra kick out some divine Russian rip-offs. What makes me giggle is that the liner notes suggest, in all seriousness, that this is a “song from an imaginary musical about a ‘United States of Eurasia’, the search for peace and the accidental creation of a new super power challenging American primacy.” Utter twaddle, but the Freddie Mercury-esque chanted final syllables of Eurasia segue beautifully into Chopin’s ‘Nocturne OP/9 No/2’, and then all is forgiven.

Stripping away the hype, the politics, the utter ridiculousness of this album, the same constant since ‘Sunburn’ rears its wonderful head – Muse is comprised to two incredibly talented musicians, and one utter madcap genius. The productions, the arrangements, the writing, the musicianship, is all of the highest order, and incredibly, still manages to astound, surprise and generally wow audiences. At least they are honest as well – ‘Guiding Light’ is the only song where the liner notes reveal some kind of humour, acknowledging the cheesiness of 1980s stadium rock, and commenting on the seeming “ban” in the last 20 years of the screaming harmonic in what is one of Bellamy’s best, most mental and most headscratchingly complex guitar solos. It leads into another 6 minute epic, ‘Unnatural Selection’, and once the organs go, the riffs kick in. With jittery rocking drums, this is possibly the closest the band have got to NWOBHM, but then it all gets even odder – the bridge nearly nicks the tune from ABBA’s ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’. I kid you not, but then back into the churning and chugging riffage we go, and it somehow just works. And then it all drops out into a tortured, fuzzy guitar solo. I detect the tiniest nod to Jonny Greenwood in the opening bars of this, but that could be old conspiracy theorist in me…

Finishing with even heavier riffs than before, ‘Unnatural…’ abruptly switches into ‘MK Ultra’, a song all about brainwashing, and probably the weakest effort here – the synths whine, the vocals soar, but it’s all a bit forgettable. Luckily, it’s only four minutes, and makes ‘I Belong To You (Mon Coeur S’Ouvre A Ta Voix)’ sound even better. Inspired by all manner of kitchen sink productions, the oompah pianos and rhythm are reminiscent of ‘Sgt. Pepper’, the bass clarinet solo (yes, boys and girls, a bass clarinet…) is meant to sound like a “theme tune from a children’s TV program (sic) featuring teddy bears in a garden.’ If he hadn’t actually written that in the liner notes, I wouldn’t have been able to make it up. The fact that it drops out in the middle for a re-arranged aria from Saint-Saens’ ‘Samson and Delilah’ makes it even more bonkers than Queen and Bowie sitting down with Andrew Lloyd Webber and writing a musical… hold on, isn’t that the lost musical “United States of Eurasia”?

Finishing with a 15 minute 3 part ‘symphony’ called ‘Exogenesis’, based on the ‘Foundation’ novels by Asimov and drawing heavily on the Pink Floyd oeuvre isn’t suprising at this point – in fact, it’s almost disappointingly normal. Thankfully, it’s also remarkable music, and luckily, Muse have saved some of their best music for the end of this album. Sweeping, evocative strings, a proper story, and all inspired by “Rachmaninov, Richard Strauss, Chopin and Pink Floyd” (in terms of his piano playing, I can only imagine – I hear no ‘Fleidermaus’ references here), ‘Exogenesis’ is a brilliant way to kill a quarter of an hour without it seeming than long. Dark epic guitars finish off the ‘Overture’, Rachmaninov-esque pianos introduce and underpin ‘Cross-pollination’ and ‘Redemption’, I’m assuming, takes Chopin and Strauss and fuses them with Floyd, in an uplifting, forward looking and utterly hopeful stab at an improved humanity.

All in all, not bad for a bunch of chaps from Cornwall who used to be seen as Radiohead-lite.

8.5/10

Key tracks: Uprising/United States of Eurasia (Collateral Damage)/I Belong To You (Mon Coeur S’Ouvre A Ta Voix)

Listen on Spotify

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