It’s easy to feel demotivated right now. As you watch on powerlessly while the UK’s future leaders court the darkest recesses of the political spectrum, it’s tempting to just throw your hands up in the air and accept our individual powerlessness. It’s a mood bottled on ‘We Are Fucking Fucked’, the closing track to Muse’s ninth record ‘Will of the People’. Distilling this apathy, giving it a good shake up and then spraying it all over the listener’s head, the band’s most politically on-point album to date ends on a thumping wake-up call.
‘Will of the People’ reignites the spirit and energy of Muse’s former incarnations. ‘Kill or Be Killed’, for example, transports us to those early 2000s days when guitar-oriented brutality was central currency. Then there’s the swerving EDM synth of ‘Compliance’, which brings to mind 2009’s sonic scope-widening ‘The Resistance’. Most delicious of all is the heartbroken simplicity of ‘Ghosts (How Can I Move On)’, the musical equivalent of a faded photograph from the days when the 21 year-old Matt Bellamy channelled small-town yearning into 1999 debut ‘Showbiz’ – complete with a ‘Sunburn’-recalling piano part.
Not only does this career-recapping aspect make the album more digestible than the occasionally awkward trend-chasing of 2018’s ‘Simulation Theory’; this is also a record that is more pointedly about something. Bellamy’s suspicion that a type of Orwellian police state is looming just around the corner has long been an intrusive shadow in his writing. But Muse’s most nakedly political record to date, 2015’s underrated ‘Drones’, was never quite clear on exactly who his oppressors were. Back then, Matt wobbled his crosshairs around Cold War-era CIA puppets, high-tech warfare and moustache-twirling despots of all stripes. While this ire might have seemed unfocused, ‘Will of the People’ resonates strongly with 2022’s public appetite for change.
“Thematically we went into fantasy Metaverse fictional world a little bit on the last album,” Bellamy told NME for our Big Read cover story back in June, “which I like, and I think we’ll go back there again in the future and go even weirder… But the idea was: the next one, let’s make it a bit more about what’s actually happening in the world right now.”
From the opening title track’s call for strength in numbers, ‘Will of the People’ montages our current cultural and political landscape. From ‘Liberation’’s comment on protest clamp-down (“You’ll send the army to trample on our prayers”) and ‘We Are Fucking Fucked’’s climate change hellscape (“Wildfires and earthquakes…”) to ‘Euphoria’’s Brave New World-evoking image of a future of nullified, opiated bliss, the record presents a series of bleak, interconnected pictures. But, throughout the album, it’s clear that Bellamy isn’t just wallowing in a state of heightened paranoia, instead channelling these modern anxieties into Muse’s best music in years.
With the title of impactful lead single ‘Won’t Stand Down’, he pens a resilient lyric that spits in the eye of institutions, authoritarians and the other dehumanising structures that hover above. The hard switch from its bass-punctuated, operatic verse section into the metalcore grind of the chorus is among the album’s most compelling moments, reminding us of the spontaneous thrill of the band in their early 2000s pomp.
Muse’s full-blooded return to the rock out may sound like a retreat, but this violent energy emphasises the record’s urgency. The colossal ‘Kill or be Killed’ – a reflection of capitalism’s empathy-free, Darwinian spine – boils with legitimate fury, complete with double-bass drum stomp, deathcore growls and a satisfying Tom Morello-like riff, which rides hard on the whammy-pedal. Here, Muse re-work the type of metal-pop template that once yielded such old-school stompers such as ‘Dead Star’ and ‘Stockholm Syndrome’
That’s not to say there’s no sonic breadth here – see, for example, how ‘Verona’’s wiry arpeggios and dreamy synth pads provide ethereal texture. And while ‘Compliance’’s rippling electronica comes dangerously close to becoming overwrought, the sound ultimately tightens and coalesces, enhancing the track’s groove. Elsewhere, on the Les Mis-sized pomposity of ‘Liberation’ and in the operatic title track, you find the type of stadium-rousing theatricality that caused the band to be equal parts pilloried and hailed over the last decade.
True: the album’s twin ambitions of being both an urgent call for political action and a career-spanning tour of Muse’s former glories don’t always gel. The oddball ‘You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween’ is a little too reminiscent of the lightweight retro-froth of ‘Simulation Theory’; while there’s some fun in its campy arrangements, it’s a jarring swerve.
But this doesn’t prevent ‘Will of the People’ from boasting their strongest set of songs for an age. He may have been broad in his previous political swipes, but Bellamy’s ire here locks in step with a growing public mood, bubbling with a very relatable anger toward those who stand in the way of us tackling humanity’s overwhelming crises. “The chances are turning, the future is ours” he proclaims. Just show us where to enlist.
Release date: August 26
Record label: Warner