By Jessica Misener
September 16, 2009
Muse's new album crashes onto the scene today like Kanye West, interrupting America's regular rock programming to declare that another kind of music should be winning the charts race; in fact, that we're losers for settling for one genre at all.
But unlike Kanye, they might have a point. For their fifth studio album, Resistance , the British bombastadors twist Chopin, early Radiohead, New Wave and post-punk into their trademark brand of stadium-shattering arena rock, and it results in a high-concept, high-noise and deeply compelling record.
Though their popularity in the U.S.
is still nascent, Muse is an international sensation, having spent the past several years playing stadium venues in Europe and thundering out riffs so huge you can see them from Mount Olympus . Lead guitarist/pianist/vocalist Matt Bellamy has several tools in his arsenal: a throaty Freddie Mercury falsetto, influence from classical composers and a talent for penning apocalyptic anthems.
The album deploys all of these to continue in the grandiose tradition of British arena bands like Queen, and its lyrics are also staunchly soaked in 1984, presenting a futuristic narrative of Winston vs. Big Brother, man vs. state, humanity against technology . Its space-tunnel cover art was even prematurely voted 2nd Best Album Cover of 2009 by AOL Radio. This is not a record seeking to fade into the indie background.
Resistance isn’t melodically shy, starting off with c atchy first single "Uprising , " which brings to mind Goldfrapp and Sam Sparro soaking in New Wave with its apocalyptic chorus, "They will not force us/ They will stop degrading us/They will not control us/We will be victorious." “Undisclosed Desires,” a similar track, drives on a steady beat mellower than much of Muse’s previous work.
Yet Muse also remain
true to their rock edge. "Unnatural Selection" pummels you with a pop-punk pluckiness, and on the title track they recall a more gravelly U2.
"MK Ultra," named after a covert mind control operation by the CIA, is bold and swaggering in its hooks and in its warnings: “Invisible to all/ The mind becomes a wall/All of history deleted with one stroke.”
The album ebbs a bit in its slower songs like "United States of Eurasia," a bloated homage to (rip-off of?) Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" that ends with a sprinkling of a Chopin nocturne. On the sugary “I Belong to You” and "Guiding Light , " tepid melodies weigh down the rest of the album’s appealing jagged edge. Bellamy and Co. are at their best when they’re letting all of their usual bombastic musical tricks fly out with ravaging force.
After the power-punch that preceded it, Resistance concludes with an indulgent three-song orchestral piece, "Exogenesis," overflowing with atmospheric synths, Mozart-esque piano flourishes and Bellamy's plaintive moaning --Thom Yorke, is that you? Still, the 15-minute opus is a tremendous display of compositional skills . Pretentious? Yes. But there’s no better way to end a colossal concept album like this one.
An apt follow-up to 2006’s thrill-seeking Black Holes & Revelations , Resistance dials up the hooks while also cranking the dial on the futuristic drama. Overall, the album lacks the sharp brilliance of previous Muse hits like "Supermassive Black Hole" and "Time is Running Out," but it's an ambitious concept album that gamely fills Muse's spatial shoes. Trying not to like Resistance is futile.
Jessica Misener can be found online at www.jessicamisener.com.