Muse: The Resistance, its predecessors and where they are heading to.

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14 déc. 2009, 18h37m

The Resistance is, from the perspective of Muse's established fanbase, a divisive album. While it has contributed to attract a broad new audience to the band, a large share of old-time fans felt alienated by it, and some even came to write off the band altogether. The new album led to hasty, precipitate judgement on Muse and the direction they are taking. In order to dispel any possible misconceptions, it is essential to understand the evolution of the band towards The Resistance. For that reason, this argument will begin with brief reviews of their four previous "main" studio albums.

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The path began some ten years ago with Showbiz, which is a strong and surprisingly consistent début effort for the still very young band. Granted, it is somewhat more conventional than its follow-ups, and in a few select places it does sound kind of like you-know-who. Nevertheless, many of the elements which would set Muse apart were already blooming at that stage: the sweeping, falsetto-laden ballads (which are arguably better here than anywhere else), the twisted song construction (like in the supremely under-rated Fillip) and the crazy, over-the-top intensity of the rockers (Uno, and most of the second half of the album as well).

Showbiz was a promising starting point, and its follow-up, Origin of Symmetry, fully delivers on that promise. Origin is often revered by the fans as a immaculate, never-to-be-topped masterpiece. While it is certainly not difficult to see from where such a feeling comes from, the actual aura that emanates from the record is a quite different one. Origin is, essentially, the sound of a young band exploring the possibilities ahead of them as expansively as possible. The frenzied piano interpolation in Space Dementia, the violent sonic assault of Hyper Music, the unearthly high falsetto in Micro Cuts... all is done without ever taking any compromises, even accepting the risk of sounding off-putting at times. And it pays off big time, in the form of music which sounds full of life and imagination, and which deserves all the admiration showered on it by their fans.

After the unbelievable expansiveness of Origin, Muse probably felt the need to follow it with a more focused effort in order to further hone their craft. And that is exactly what Absolution is. Their more evenly-sound album, it also is more well-defined structurally, both within songs and on the album as a whole. But this extra focus comes at a price. The dark, at times almost oppressive feel of the album, maybe coupled to the unusually high number of ballads, make it drag a bit, specially on its final third - and such a feeling is exacerbated by comparing it with Origin. For that reason, Absolution is a step below its predecessor. Nevertheless, its peaks are still incredibly high - Stockholm Syndrome is all one needs to dispel any doubts about the sheer power of the band.

Then we get to Black Holes and Revelations which, in a way, triggered a smaller-scale preview of the split of the fanbase we would see with The Resistance. Contrasting it with the previous album, the clear impression one gets is that the band itself was feeling oppressed by the dark, ponderous approach of Absolution (and the band seems to confirm such impressions) and chose to subvert it. The result was an album which shifts seamlessly between many diverse styles but still feels unified by an energetic rocking approach throughout (save for a couple breathers). The diversity works beautifully, as there is hardly any weaker track on it - BHaR is by far the most consistent Muse album up to now. Of course, it also included their first ventures into pop songwriting and electronics, but they are engaging and done flawlessly (an aside: it is hard to understand how the fans which derided Supermassive Black Hole didn't notice how its danceable styling was clearly anticipated by Time Is Running Out in Absolution). And most important of all: it is an incredibly fun record! :-) As a personal note, I got into Muse through BHaR, and what first impressed me about them was their sheer versatility, as they pulled off successfully song after song. I believe that first impression made me appreciate the heights reached on Origin and Absolution even more.

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And now we are back in 2009... my original expectations for The Resistance were that Muse would, after recharging their batteries with BHaR, concentrate their efforts in a well-defined direction, much like they did in the Origin -> Absolution transition. The early talks about a concept album and the "symphonic monster" only reinforced such expectations. Curiously enough, almost the opposite happened. While there was a lot of diversity on Origin and BHaR, the band never felt like they were trying to move in opposite directions as they do here - even when they were pretty much doing so. While such clashes highlight the broadness of their approach, they also remove much of the appeal of The Resistance as an unified, conceptual piece (although it should be noted that the album is not really organized as a concept album to begin with).

Such kind of internal incoherences would of course be only a minor issue if the actual songs were, on their own terms, fully convincing. Unfortunately, a number of songs in The Resistance are not quite as solid as one would expect from Muse. It doesn't help that the opening three tracks/singles do not leave a strong impression. Uprising, while amusing, has just a fraction of the power Take a Bow had as an album opener; Resistance tries to incorporate the more dramatic colours of Muse styling into a soaring love anthem but it does not quite gel; and as a pop crossover Undisclosed Desires is nowhere near as imaginative - or as fun! - as Supermassive Black Hole. The pop and electro crossovers in The Resistance end up not being really successful, but not just because they are pop or electro (as some traditionalist fans often protest) though - it is simply a case of the songs not being that good, period.

Thankfully, the album has its high points as well. United States of Eurasia (+Collateral Damage) displays their bombast and grandiosity in full blossom, and musically-wise the notion of a continental anthem is cleverly reinforced by the Middle Eastern-ish melodic fills and the Chopin coda. I Belong to You/Mon Cœur S'ouvre à ta Voix (however you choose to tag it) shows that delicious quirkiness that led them to put something like Feeling Good amidst the swirling fury of Origin is not at all lost. And Unnatural Selection rages powerfully. Some may argue it is merely a remake of the rockers in Origin of Symmetry, but it is also tempered by their maturity and musical growth along the last eight years, which makes this sort of revisiting totally valid from an artistic standpoint. The only annoyance in listening to Unnatural Selection is realizing that nothing else on the album comes remotely close to rocking this hard - certainly not the neat, interlude-like Guiding Light; and MK Ultra just pales in comparison to most of its predecessors.

And then, of course, there is the tour-de-force which is Exogenesis, divided in Exogenesis: Symphony Part 1 (Overture), Exogenesis: Symphony Part 2 (Cross-Pollination) and Exogenesis: Symphony Part 3 (Redemption). As satisfying a composition as it is, the most important role of the suite within the context of The Resistance is as a statement of intentions. It shows very clearly Muse intends to remain idiosyncratic and keep exploring uncharted territory as they move further towards superstardom. Some commentators criticize Muse arguing that doing a symphonic crossover is not a particularly innovative move for a rock band circa 2009; and while that is true, it is also completely besides the point. A more pertinent remark which is sometimes made that Exogenesis would be actually a quite simple classical piece. That also rings true - to my layman, untrained ears at least, but it is not quite fair to raise that accusation against Matt as he is just a beginner classical composer, Exogenesis being his first full-blown orchestral piece. Whether he will push further the envelope on that new direction - and, crucially, what would be Chris and Dom's feelings on such a move - is an interesting question for the future.

Overall, The Resistance is a mixed bag of an album. It is flawed as a conceptual piece and quite uneven, some songs lacking the proverbial spark. But it also shows Muse keeps a broad artistic vision and still possesses enough creativity to deliver the goods. While it is understandable that it may be taken by many as a letdown, in no way it is a total disaster, nor it damages their credibility by any means. It is quite off-putting when long-time fans claim that the magic is lost, or that they should go back to their Origin of Symmetry sound. What these people do not understand is that the "magic" in Origin stems directly from Muse being a band in its early stages undergoing a rapid evolution, and that they can't possible go back to that point. What they are surely able to do is to move forward, maturing and aggregating new elements to their sound. I am fully confident that Muse are perfectly able to capitalize on their status as a rising force in contemporary rock to deliver a focused, imaginative career-topping (thus far) sixth album, which will relegate any missteps on The Resistance as a necessary transitional prelude to further greatness. But that is something that only time will tell...

Commentaires

  • Mrazakmrazak

    Great review. I feel the same most way, though I really enjoy the band's new repertoire. Some might say it's all too overblown, but I couldn't help my self, and nowaydays The Resistance and BHaR sit at my top spots.

    14 déc. 2009, 19h43m
  • FluffyUnderwear

    Excellent review, I too feel almost the same as you.

    22 déc. 2009, 8h40m
  • Fallingup1986

    BHAR was definitely my favourite in many regards, so I agree with you there, it is probably their best album. However I do disagree with your comments on the first three tracks of The Resistance. Every Muse album has a few tracks that deliver a short and concise burst of radio friendly rock done the way only muse can do it (Starlight, TIRO, Hyper Music, Muscle Museum), I think Resistance, Uprising, and Undisclosed Desires are worthy additions to that list. Not as grand in scope as USOE, Exogenesis, or Unnatural Selection but still worthy of being the songs that pack the first part of the album.

    23 déc. 2009, 16h35m
  • Duplode

    @Fallingup: I definitely agree with your point on worthy concise songs. My main issue in that respect was that the three leading songs of Resistance lose by significant margin when compared to the three first tracks of BHaR, which served more or less the same purpose.

    23 déc. 2009, 16h54m
  • annyz

    This was nicely written and very interesting to read too... I quite agree too. I said it when I first heard The Resistance: I like where they are progressing even though now I like it less mainly coz I over-heard it. And though Origin of Symmetry is my favourite album, I sure do not want and expect them to make one similar.

    6 jan. 2010, 12h52m
  • oinkoink7

    I actually know a few 'long term' Muse fans who had their faith restored in Muse by the Resistance.

    8 jan. 2010, 2h29m
  • LiviaIndica

    That does it, you've convinced me to give this album another chance! Thanks.

    17 jan. 2010, 7h43m
  • dany_hplover

    Wow excellent review, i got a bit too excited while reading it. Although i can see your point in The Resistance, i have to say i pretty much like the whole album. And just as you explained it before, they can't go back to their past sound (and i wouldn't like them to) so we can only hope they will keep the creativity, i'm sure they will :)

    22 avr. 2010, 21h35m
  • Jonzo67

    Nice review. I have to disagree on one point though. Black Holes for me is the transitional album between Muse writing idiosyncratic rock songs and shmultzy rubbish regularly. Let's face it, Muse did always have that side to them - Feeling Good cover etc. But it's the sheer number of tracks where Muse "experiment" that is just plain irritating. Invincible and Guiding Light are almost unlistenable to fans of the older material. Exogenesis IS enjoyable, and I'd also argue that MK Ultra is exactly the sort of song that I'd like to see Muse explore more of: it's got that futiristic electronica/strings section going on, whilst still being reasonably heavy and containing some riffs. It's ambitious without jumping needlessly into another style of music altogether. Unnatural, whilst a step above the first half of TR (by far!), is still a bit too like a contrived re-hash of New Born v Citizen Erased, without the sweeping major to minor chord changes and dark atmosphere that those two songs so special. I've definitely not given up on Muse. They're one of my favourite bands, and still kick ass live (when they play the right songs), but they're hit v miss rate is going increasingly in the wrong direction. Neutron Star Collision is easily one of the worst pieces they've ever written, if I can even call it that. Obviously this blog was written before it was released but it's a worrying thought that Muse's next album will be made up of crappy Twilight ballads with one rock song to keep us happy. Muse's legacy of writing classic riffs and tight grooves with wailing falsetto is quavering. I just hope that in ten years, people don't instead remember them as the band who sounded a wee bit like Queen.

    16 juin 2010, 0h26m
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