Issue 2009-049: Muse - The Resistance - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
Tracklist: Uprising (5:03), Resistance (5:47), Undisclosed Desires (3:56), United States Of Eurasia [+ Collateral Damage] (5:48), Guiding Light (4:13), Unnatural Selection (6:55), MK Ultra (4:06), I Belong to You [+ Mon Couer S’Ouvre A Ta Voix] (5:39), Exogenesis: Symphony Part 1 [Overture] (4:18), Exogenesis: Symphony Part 2 [Cross-Pollination] (3:56), Exogenesis: Symphony Part 3 [Redemption] (4:37)
Alex Torres' Review
Yes, disappointing. Don’t get me wrong....The Resistance is a good album... BUT... it is not the “second coming”, which is what you might be led to believe by the hype being whipped up about it in many places. It is not even Muse’s best album, never mind one of the best albums of 2009. Personally, I think the hype is arising due to two factors: first, unfamiliarity with the band’s previous material; and second, the fact that the Exogenesis “symphony”, which closes the album, really is something rather special.
Muse probably need no introduction: they are one of the most popular bands performing today. Clearly, the main strength of their support comes from the teenage and young adult market; and “progressive” has not been a word to use when referring to their music until very recently, and then only in front of their older fans (like me!). Despite this reticence, older fans of the band will know that their music has had progressive influences since their first album release Showbiz (1999). This has been widely recognised: indeed, DPRP has reviewed all of Muse’s albums since their second, 2001’s Origin Of Symmetry, the lowest rating awarded being an 8 out of 10 (see DPRP’s reviews of: Origin Of Symmetry, Absolution and Black Holes And Revelations).
The progressiveness in Muse’s music comes from the classical leanings of songwriter, guitarist, pianist and vocalist Matthew Bellamy, who has chosen to adorn many of his essentially straight rock/pop songs – loved by the masses for their bombast, dynamic extremes and catchy melodies – with strings and classical piano from the very first album. Bellamy has built on the extent of these classical incursions with each successive album, culminating with 2006’s stupendous Black Holes And Revelations. On that album, the songs were presented chronologically, in the order that they were recorded, and listening to it – bearing in mind that Black Holes And Revelations, like much progressive music, requires repeated listening to assimilate fully - one can hear the incremental progress in ideas from song to song. Black Holes And Revelations is a musical “tour de force” of controlled power and inventiveness, dealing with the concept of a political conspiracy to subvert the will of the people, culminating in an intense musical and lyrical crescendo that leaves one breathless. Hence, the nature of the disappointment felt on listening to The Resistance which, by failing to continue the incremental song progression of its predecessor, fails to live up to its considerable promise. Indeed, The Resistance sounds very much like the songs that were rejected for Black Holes And Revelations, plus Exogenesis. It’s as if Exogenesis is the only music that Bellamy has composed in the intervening period.
Of course, Black Holes And Revelations was so good that even the “reject” songs, as I have put it, should be quite good. Well, to a large extent they are: like, I said, this is a good album.
Uprising provides a solid enough start: urgent and pacey, it provides a similar anchor to Black Holes And Revelations’s Take A Bow. Unfortunately, things start to go wrong almost immediately thereafter...
...Just a slight aside before I go on... I have never really heard much of Queen’s influence in Muse’s music myself, despite other reviewers alluding to it - perhaps on account of the bombast - but on The Resistance the comparison is inevitable! It’s not just influence, it sounds like a steal almost, or a poor pastiche, or an attempt to goad critics perhaps. Unfortunately, on the three occasions that it most blatantly appears, the effect is demeaning; detracting from the musical effect. Which brings me on to...
...Resistance begins well but is ruined by a very Queen-like backing vocal section in the chorus, which is like a stale slice of meat in your sandwich, leaving a bitter taste. It’s certainly like nothing Muse have ever attempted before – not that they shouldn’t try new things of course – but it doesn’t work. Undisclosed Desires contains a strong melodic hook through its opening but loses that momentum and, with nothing happening in the way of dynamics or rhythm during the slow section, becomes a “nothing song”:
United States Of Eurasia [+ Collateral Damage] is a bold, but flawed, attempt at a grand work. It is here, for the first time on this album, that Bellamy brings in his legions of strings and his classical piano. It begins well, and could have been a great song, but ultimately it fails to work because of some significant flaws. First, the annoying Queen steals: the guitar break that uses Brian May’s sound and the chorus of “Eura-SIA” that mimics the effect from the chorus of Bohemian Rhapsody. Second, the odd inclusion towards the end – following some already major classical piano parts - of a section of Chopin’s Nocturne in Eb Major, used to accompany sounds of an air-raid. Why? It is not well integrated into the song overall, just tagged on at the end – why? It’s very pretty, for sure, and I have other Chopin piano works in my CD collection, but if I hear classical piano during a rock album, then I want it integrated into the score, or at least have some conceptual meaning behind it that I can understand. Bellamy can do that, he has done it before – including with Chopin-influenced music on previous albums; it’s just not credited! - and he does it later on in this album, but here it seems out of place. Third, the politics in the lyrics is naive: whilst I can understand the rationale, the continuing barrage of conspiracy lyrics that pervade this album begin to grate towards its end, and this song is a big culprit.
The album then sags, like a poorly cooked soufflé, over the next three songs. Guiding Light and MK Ultra go nowhere; and, in a repeat of the previous error, Unnatural Selection loses the momentum that it has built up in a poor slow section.
Finally, as we near the end, Bellamy delivers music worth listening to. I Belong to You [+ Mon Couer S’Ouvre A Ta Voix] brings light, sustainable melody and invention to the fray, with its French turn-of-the-century rhythm and incorporation of a section of Saint-Saëns’s music for the Samson et Delilah opera. It’s as if he’s finally switched on the “ideas button” in his head, making the classical and traditional integrate seamlessly with the rock/pop.
Finally, the “cherry-on-the-top” is the Exogenesis symphony, which I will treat as one composition, and it improves on I Belong To You. It has verve, it has rock power, it has symphonic power, it has “Muse bombast”, it has melody, it has invention, it has emotion, it fuses the classical and rock worlds to perfection – it’s a stunning piece of music! Borrowing ideas from Wagner’s creation of the universe in Das Rheingold - “you stole my overture” sings Bellamy, ha ha, good one! - Bellamy makes the strings sweep away the cobwebs of his earlier compositions, as they create their own explosive genesis of a new world where we are reborn, and can eventually live happily in peace; the symphony ending with a sumptuous melody that is sung and then played out on the piano and strings. It will surely give you the goosebumps. It’s such a powerful and emotive ending that it leaves you on a complete high and the temptation is then to pronounce the album as being totally brilliant!
Which, of course, it isn’t. It’s a mediocre album with a stunning 12 minutes of music to finish with. Does that make the album itself worth recommending? No. This is the digital age, and the fact that you are reading this proves that you have the technology – so, make a playlist on your mp3 player with Black Holes And Revelations followed by the Exogenesis tracks – download them on their own! – and then sit back and enjoy a real contender for “album” of the century!
”I want the truth”, sings Bellamy repeatedly on Unnatural Selection. So do we all. And in so far as The Resistance is concerned, the truth is that the real conspiracy is the one that is trying to convince you that this album is the best thing since the invention of the gramophone.
Brendan Bowen's Review
Not surprisingly the English trio Muse has broken through the charts again with their latest release, The Resistance. They seem to be destined for the stratosphere and with this disc, the broad appeal to this band is only increasing even as they continue to produce music that by all logic should be relegated to a much smaller niche category.
Having beaten the odds on the fan base, Muse brings to the plate a varied and probably risky set of songs. They open with Uprising, a Dr. Who theme mashed up in a retro pop song. I like the Dr. Who reference and I like the theme of the album, but that is coming from my “fringe” tastes in music. The popularity of this band really mystifies me.
After a snappy introduction, the music jumps straight into the familiar Queen derivative territory that has been covered quite a bit before. This tune is The Resistance and it immediately reminded me of why I don’t normally place Muse in my day-to-day playlists. The scooped vocal styling is hard for me to listen to.
I was relieved at hearing the next track, Undisclosed Desires; it has a tasty modern mix of string plucking and synth, and the vocals were toned down to a normal timbre that is pleasing to hear. The anxiously strained and agonized vocals many bands carry today is loathsome to me.
United States Of Eurasia follows with more direct Queen grabs. I won’t try to guess if the Queen elements are some type of ironic tongue in cheek reference, a rip-off, or just some fancy change-ups that the band knows their audience will appreciate – and actually I don’t care, either way, there is nothing wrong with more Queen, right?
Guiding Light rolls into a slow Bono sounding soliloquy; even the guitars ring with a U2 flavour. It is a nice song nonetheless.
From here, Muse moves more into the realm that brings this review to DPRP – a prog taint in their songwriting. Unnatural Selection and I Belong To You move the disc along and were able to keep my interest even though MK Ultra interrupts those two tunes with a four-minute stretch of mediocrity. Aside from the slow parts, the Supertramp segment that shows up is well done but, sadly, short-lived.
The album ends with a three-part symphony called Exogenesis. This daring ending is harmful to the overall work since this album won’t likely be put in the player unless I am in the mood for pop, rock, prog, electronic, AND classical strings; not a likely combination.
To summarize, this album sounds like it belongs in a soundtrack or a theatrical performance. I understand Muse’s live show is quite theatrical so I will grant them that. The action in this disc is too short and separated by a lot of slow vocals and plenty of mundane pop rock. The good parts, however brief, are brilliant and wildly entertaining. Even the strings and piano are good, just a bit misplaced for me. The subject matter is interesting and makes up for many of the music’s deficits.
I don’t see that Muse is a prog band in the traditional sense. Just as Jethro Tull isn’t a prog band even though they have had progressive albums and have influenced the prog genre forever. The ability of Muse to cross genres and gain exposure is admirable. I compliment their shameless approach to music. My primary complaint (aside from the vocals) lies in their penchant for cutting off a good jam before it can develop into something that prog fans appreciate… which obviously isn’t their motive. So, like their other albums, this one won’t be a regular listen for me.
Menno von Bruck Fock's Review
Muse have been a stadium act for a few years now, so Matt Bellamy, Dom Howard and Chris Wolstenholme should not need any further introduction. The fifth studio album by the trio is a very special album, because this time the guys did practically everything themselves. There is also a Limited Edition release with an accompanying DVD (The Making Of The Resistance), however that is not reviewed here.
The opening song Uprising is already a worldwide hit and also for me this tune belongs to the best songs recorded this year. A nice mid tempo synthesized bass and an awesome groove combine influences of JM Jarre, Depeche Mode, Space and all those famous other synthi-pop acts in the Eighties. This would have been a big hit in the Eighties and fortunately it’s a song also appreciated by a wide variety of fans today. The chorus shows influences of Midge Ure and Ultravox. In the last part the future audiences can yell their hearts out.
The title track starts mellow and electronic with a similar kind of atmosphere as in the song I Like Chopin by Giorgio Moroder. The chorus is more in the vein of the modern pop-rock by bands like Green Day: catchy but there’s this subtle contrast between chorus and verses. Bellamy’s vocals are full of emotion and combines the feel of U2’s Bono with the sensuality of Midge Ure’s voice. Add his distinctive vibrato and you have one of the best voices in ‘progressive pop’ as I would like to describe the music by Muse. In Undisclosed Desires there’s a lot of elements that I recognise from Ultravox during their heydays, also driven by electronics. Bellamy is known to have an admiration for Freddie Mercury and Queen and in the track United States Of Eurasia both the guitars, the close harmonies and the music itself, show the same features as in We Are The Champions. A tribute to a truly great band in rock history but definitely with a ‘Muse-twist’ to it, also because of the Oriental influenced interludes and the simplified version of a section from Chopin’s Nocturne in Eb Major. Unlike Queen there are some tasteful orchestrations added too.
In Guiding Light we can appreciate a mix between Ultravox’s Vienna (rhythm and atmosphere) and works by for example OMD. The guitar solo is heavily inspired by Brian May’s technique. An organ with a telephone voice singing is the opening Unnatural Selection but right after this smooth opening, there are more heavy guitars and a genuine rock sound with a delightful riff, suitable for an enthusiastic stadium. Slightly classically oriented interludes and a much more slow piece in between with a more bluesy character.
MK Ultra is also a combination of up-tempo guitar oriented rock with a more progressive keyboard driven piece. A nostalgic feeling comes over me in I Belong To You, reminding me of Sparks but also of pop music from the Fifties. The piano’s, some lines sung in French and an orchestral operatic piece, adapted from works by Saint Saëns, make this track one of the most memorable ones. There’s a remarkable contribution by a (bass) clarinet. The grand finale is an orchestra-driven little symphony in three parts. Carefully arranged bits and pieces originally played on piano solo, Bellamy had lying on the shelves. The orchestra opens in the first part of Exogenesis, then drums, bass and synthesizers join in and Bellamy sings with a high pitched voice a slow bombastic and majestic piece. Part 2 features the piano in a piece of mid tempo rock, partly orchestrated, again with references to Queen. Part 3 is a nice melody on the piano, maybe inspired by Beethoven, partially with the orchestra and just a few lines with vocals, building up a climax but in the end fading away like melting snow and you find yourself wanting to hear this music over and over again.
For me this is the best album by Muse so far because they did it all themselves, with no boundaries and no interference by a producer from the outside. Lyrically the focus is on love and politics. Although the production is good but not perfect (but when is something really perfect for everyone?), it’s Muse at their very best, exploring new grounds and taking up new challenges. In this sense they are truly progressive and although The Resistance is mainly pop-music, still a lot of fans of progressive and/or symphonic music will like this album a lot.
Leo Koperdraat's Review
There is a famous story about Queen, where Freddie Mercury was playing on the piano parts of what would become Bohemian Rhapsody. He was playing it for the rest of the band and after a few minutes he stopped and said; “here comes the operetta part”. The others thought “yeah, right Freddie” and the rest is history. I am sure that Muse's Dominic Howard (drums) and Chris Wolstenholme (bass) thought the same when Matthew Bellamy (vocals, guitars, keyboards) was playing them his new song ideas on the piano. The album was recorded in the Italian Alps, where Bellamy has his own studio near Lago Di Como. Wolstenholme and Howard commuted weekly between London and Milan. In this beautiful location the band worked on their fifth album over ten years.
On this new album Muse are doing things in another way, taking their grandiose sound even one step further on the Resistance. Some of the experiments work very well while others fail to work. That is always a risk when a band wants to leave the secure path of success. And also in this case the effort and the risk should be rewarded but it leaves us with an album that is a bit of a mixed bag.
The album opens strongly with the single (not a word that is used much on DPRP) Uprising, a stomping almost "Glamrock" kind of song that sticks into your head and the title track which has a beautiful atmospheric opening and a great chorus. And also third track Undisclosed Desires keeps up the quality level. But there are also a couple of disappointments. The biggest disappointment for me is the closing Exogenesis Symphony. This three part symphony lacks strong melodies and, at least to me, sounds like a couple of piano ideas with added orchestra. The track passes by almost unnoticed. It does not move and does not impress me - I just lose interest. And can someone tell me what the inclusion of Chopin’s Nocturne In E Flat Minor and Saint Saëns Mon Coeur S’ouvre à ta Voix during United States Of Eurasia [+Collateral Damage] and I Belong To You respectively add to these tracks? Guiding Light is another track that does not leave a mark. United States Of Eurasia is a great track but maybe just a Queen bridge too far. And finally I Belong To You is a track that could have been on a Mika album. For me there are just too many tracks that fail to impress.
On the positive side; Chris Wolstenholme recorded some great (distorted) bass lines for the album and Dominic Howard’s drumming is very impressive. The drums he played as well as the programmed drums (especially on Guiding Light). By far the best track of the album is Unnatural Selection after a short quiet opening with just Bellamy’s voice and church organ the track changes gear with an opening guitar riff to die for. During the seven minutes this track changes from one great section to another. In the middle of the song they slow down and a great distorted bass line gives way to a guitar solo and a beautiful vocal part. The song ends with another short, but delicious guitar riff.
The Resistance shows a highly successful band that dares to experiment and take their music to another level. In my opinion they do not always succeed, but they have my respect for trying.
ALEX TORRES : 7 out of 10
BRENDAN BOWEN : 5 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK : 9 out of 10
LEO KOPERDRAAT : 6.5 out of 10