Album review: Muse – ‘The Resistance’

There is of course no lack of stupidity and scale, but beneath all of that? Well...

Greetings, citizen of Eurasia, resident of colony GBv6.0. Please state serial code and expiry date to any hovering micromonitor and proceed to Aquadome for daily cleansing. The State reminds all citizens to keep their ResUnits appropriately free of contraband; more pertinently, any citizen harbouring the works of the known fugitive gang referred to as [a]Muse[/a] will be re-educated. And the State will again reiterate its commitment to the eradication of emotion: in Eurasia, to love is to die.

And that’s just it, dear citizen, that’s the point of Muse’s barmy, overblown, often hilarious, sometimes stunning fifth record. Actually, ‘opus’ is more apt: by now you’ll know about the grand themes of state control, unjust war and marauding Thought Police, maybe you took part in the treasure hunt that stretched from Dubai to New York, and you’ll certainly know there’s something on this record that’s 15 minutes long and called ‘Exogenesis Symphony’. But beneath the bombast lies Muse’s most coherent and focused record yet, a treatise on the ineffable power of love.But it sure takes a while to get there.

Muse have always been ambitious, but ‘United States Of Eurasia’ pushes the envelope clean off this sphere of existence: it’s like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ crossed with the anthem of an entire planet, all hoofed up with ultrasteroids, strings and guitars that zoom like spaceships. It’s deliriously unhinged, shamelessly grandiose and, best of all, superb. And, as the chorus-line hamming twinkles into a borrowed Chopin nocturne, the scope changes to something graceful, tonally redolent of ‘Citizen Erased’ in parts, and Muse remind us why we loved them so much in the first place: because when they go unapologetically batshit insane they’re untouchable. And it’s a shame there’s not more like it. ‘Uprising’ and ‘Guiding Light’, for example, are just myriad ideas thrown at a wall and expected to stick.

Lyrically, the album’s a love letter from 1984’s Winston Smith to Julia, or rather Bellamy to his fiancée. “Love is our resistance” goes ‘Resistance’ (surprisingly), and the abiding message is that forbidden romance against the odds will, even in this dystopia, triumph. The controlling-state leitmotif gets tired quickly, what with all the bollocks about Thought Police and such, but the references to “my guiding lightning bolt” suggest that behind the musical lunacy is just a guy in love with a beautiful woman. Perhaps because this is the first time he’s opened himself up emotionally, Bellamy feels the need to cloak his feelings in metaphor, and, once past the overcooked imagery, ‘The Resistance’ feels resolutely human throughout.

Chris Wolstenholme’s bass-doodles in ‘Resistance’ and the barrage of Dom Howard’s drums in ‘Guiding Light’ add texture to otherwise garishly bright canvases, even though the latter feels like Muse on autopilot save an atomic solo ripped straight from the Van Halen school of subtlety. ‘MK Ultra’, too, could be any B-side from the last couple of albums. ‘Unnatural Selection’, on the other hand, is another that makes no bones about its craziness and is all the stronger for it; heralded by a massive organ and guided by a typically frenetic Bellamy riff, it’s boiling and brilliant.

But such supernovae of genius are all too rare, as much of ‘The Resistance’ is predictable in its insanity. Maybe they’ve painted themselves into a corner – now we expect billion-piece string sections and falsetto rock-lord histrionics and backing vocals performed by a holy choir of visiting angels and acrobatic guitars powered by NASA and obelisk drums and and and and – so the schlock of the new has been lost.

So when, on ‘Undisclosed Desires’ and the terrible ‘I Belong To You’, they try to reignite the low-down R&B of ‘Supermassive Black Hole’, it backfires. The former sounds like something Timbaland might find down the back of his mixing desk and the latter is a sleazy romp with an ill-advised section where Bellamy sings in French. And then, when it can’t get any more laughable: clarinet solo. It’s times like this that ‘The Resistance’ isn’t much of an album, more a prayer to the prog gods plodding around Rick Wakeman’s subconscious after a heavy night playing wizard.

Speaking of which, it’s time to talk ‘Exogenesis Symphony’. Comprising ‘Overture’, ‘Cross Pollination’ and ‘Redemption’, slapped at the end it feels like a concession rather than a dramatic centrepiece. Having rattled around Bellamy’s mind for years and dealing with nothing so weighty as, y’know, life on Earth having its roots in the stars and humans taking an exodus from the planet to repopulate another world (obviously), it’s almost unbearably pretentious. For all the bluster, it’s far too reliant on Bellamy’s string arrangements (an astonishing achievement, yes, but not as accomplished as his work on the ivories and fretboard; the next album will be a killer, though) rather than the symphonic peaks and troughs the trio themselves are capable of creating.

It’s symptomatic of ‘The Resistance’ as a whole: conceptually impressive but musically all too familiar. And while not their best, it’s decent enough to ensure there’ll be more – even though the truly off-the-wall moments are either rare or misguided, meaning the record feels slightly anonymous. So next time, guys, can you just go nuts?

Ben Patashnik

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Read more of Ben Patashnik’s musings over at NME’s Notes From The Underground blog.

Click here to get your copy of Muse’s ‘The Resistance’ from the Rough Trade shop.