15 September 2009

Muse: "The Resistance"

The first time I heard about Muse when was I dragged to a small show in New York City late in 1998 and I was immediately impressed. But it was their 2001 release, “The Origins of Symmetry,” that blew me away – completely! From the opening notes of “New Born,” to the sophistication of “Bliss,” to “Citizen Erased,” a song that is the mantra of all mantras, I immediately realized that these three guys (Matt Bellamy, Dominic Howard, and Christopher Wolstenholme) were perhaps the most talented musicians of their generation. Then “Absolution” (2003) was released, and that was the clincher for me. Their follow-up to “Absolution” would bring Muse worldwide recognition. And now, 15 September 2009, Muse has released their latest album in the USA, “The Resistance,” and I think I may be the only one sitting in the corner in subtle resistance on this one, but I have no problem with that.

Off the bat, I want to say that it is a good album, with eleven tracks, that draw on a wide range of influences and style. And I know that the album is going to get some heavy rotation on my iPod, solidly better than most of the music out there this year, but this is not a great album, not for Muse at least. Okay, I am guilty of any and all accusations of being tougher on veterans in the music industry than newbies, but I feel that veterans have the experience and the security (financial and in a solid fan base) to produce new music that lives up to any expectations of them. And yes, I would say if any other “new” band released this album, you would probably hear me saying, “Wow, this is amazing.” But this is not any new band; this is Muse, whose first professional release came in early 1998, not last year.

First off, with a title like “The Resistance,” I expected more “Apocalypse Now,” more “Citizen Erased,” more “Take a Bow,” but the album is comfortable in not being very resistant to anything in particular. The lead single and album opener, “Uprising,” immediately showed the potential of what this album had to deliver. This is tongue-in-cheek at it’s best: a popish, new wavish, rock song, which sounds friendly and inviting, until you hear Bellamy sing, “They will not force us, they will stop degrading us, they will not control us, we will be victorious…” This is capped off with a falsetto, “So come on.” (But it does bare an uncanny resemblance to “White Wedding” by Billy Idol.) Immediately followed by the titular track, “The Resistance,” Bellamy croons, “Love is our resistance; they’ll keep us apart and they won’t stop breaking us down. Hold me, our lips must always be sealed.” Shifting pace between verses, bridge, and chorus, the song is catchy, but the moment you start to buy the resistance as love metaphor, Bellamy sings, “We must run…” Run? That is resistance?

This is followed by my favorite track on the album, “Undisclosed Desires.” I am not sure I any longer buy Muse’s assertion that they are not influenced by the Cure and like post-punk bands after hearing this one. From the theme and lyrics (“I want to reconcile the violence in your heart…”) to the music (laced with layered ambient keys, propelled by a steady, repetitious rhythm), Muse definitely takes a new direction for this number, one that is really unexpected. I think that is what makes it the gem on the album. Then the “United States of Eurasia / Collateral Damage” sneaks in. This is perhaps the most derivative song that Muse has ever recorded – think “Lawrence of Arabia” meets “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Musically, perhaps a less exposed teenager might hear the song and be wowed by its air of originality and power, but those who have seen the classic film and heard the classic Queen song know better. (Actually, Queen’s influence is worn on Muse’s collective sleeve for this entire album.) And the “Collateral Damage” part is actually by composer Frederic Chopin, but works really well – hey some teens are finally going to get an education in classical music!

A quick tour to the end… “Guiding Light” goes back to an 80s esque feel. “Unnatural Selection” is the eeriest song on the album but is also the one track that guitar aficionados are going to love. “MK ULTRA” combines the most aggressive elements of new wave with that unique rock edge of Muse. The piano driven “I Belong to You + Mon Coeur S’ouvre A Ta Voix” is a cutesy piano song, sung in both English and French. Then the album comes to a close with “Exogenesis.” The long awaited symphonic song promised years ago. Would it be all orchestrated? Would it have those electronic disco beats we were teased about? Written in three parts – “Overture,” “Cross Pollination,” and “Redemption” – the first part is orchestrated to perfection, as Bellamy singing style mirrors the motions of the first seat violin. “You stole my overture, trapped in God’s program, oh I can’t escape…” Incredible song, incredible execution, but hard to stomach from a man who once sung, “Come ride with me through the veins of history, I’ll show you how God falls asleep on the job.” (“Knights of Cydonia”) The second part, “Cross Pollination” has two major points to fall in love with. Bellamy on the piano and how the “rock” component of the music just barges in and then lightly flutters away. Then the final part, “Redemption” – “It’s our last chance to forgive ourselves.” Emotionally, the most powerful of the three parts; it is hard not to allow your heartstrings to be moved. And while listening to this song for the first time is that I thought, “This album should have been called “Redemption,” not “Resistance,” because there is no resistance going on at the end of it all.”

And that is the thing about the album, there does not seem to be cohesion – is it redemption or resistance? Is it Queen or something new? Each Muse album after the debut had a definitive theme or two running through it, each album had a range of music, often time being experimental, but there was always a sense of listening to an album. And that is where this album, “The Resistance,” falls short – it feels like a compilation, not an album. Perhaps it is the fault of composing music over different time periods, perhaps it is the result of living in an iTunes world where the concept of a cohesive album has been shredded to death, or perhaps, what I do not want to believe, it is because this was a somewhat rushed, under thought recording experience. Does the album get my recommendation? Hell yeah, as I said from the start, this is a good album, better than most of the playing field out there. But did this album live up to my expectations of what Muse is capable of? No, and I know I am only one of thousands who have been waiting faithfully for this release, but I think I have matured enough in my listening and experience of music not to allow anticipation and desire for a new release to taint how I experience a new album. Or, perhaps, I just have higher standards for Muse because I believe that they have it in them to write and produce the greatest album of all time – and I think I will keep waiting for that.

Now, back into the corner of the room, I think I have to listen to “Undisclosed Desires” a few more times.

Track Listing:
1. Uprising
2. Resistance
3. Undisclosed Desires
4. United States of Eurasia (+Collateral Damage)
5. Guiding Light
6. Unnatural Selection
8. I Belong to You (+Mon Coeur S’ouvre a Ta Voix)
9. Exogenesis: Overture
10. Exogenesis: Cross Pollination
11. Exogenesis: Redemption

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1 comment:

  1. I agree, 'Uprising' sounds like someone slammed the brakes on 'White Wedding'. The guitars in 'White Wedding' and the keys in 'Uprising' are on point with each other. You have a great ear, I thought I was the only one who caught it!