Picture the scene. You’ve come out with an album so huge in scope that it makes the Milky Way look comparatively miniscule. You’ve conquered arenas the world over, culminating in two triumphant shows so Brobdingnagian in scale that even the biggest stadium in the UK struggled to contain them. The question is, where do you go from there?
The answer, apparently, is write the manifesto for a global revolution while whimsically experimenting with your musical formula – or at least, that’s what Muse appear to have come up with on their fifth studio album The Resistance. It starts with the call to arms – listening to ‘Uprising’, you can almost imagine massed armies of Muse-bots marching upon the world’s biggest population centres, spurred on by one Matthew Bellamy, who’s positioning himself as a Che Guevara for a new genration with his rallying cry of, “THEY WILL NOT FORCE US! THEY WILL STOP DEGRADING US!” Elsewhere, ‘Unnatural Selection’ pushes agressively for equality, but the message takes a turn for the idealistic on ‘Resistance’ with Bellamy yearning “Love is our resistance,” while United States Of Eurasia speaks of unity – “Why split these states, when there can be only one?” The themes aren’t exactly anything ground-breaking, but equally they don’t seem as heavy-handed as other recent attempts at social commentary (hi there, Green Day).
Musically, there are cues taken from previous records. The intro to ‘Resistance’ has an air of ‘Map Of The Problematique’ about it, but with the latter’s coruscating guitar replaced with twinkling piano, and ‘Unnatural Selection’ features a guitar riff that’s very similar to that of ‘Newborn’ – but it would be churlish to accuse the band of repeating themselves. They haven’t penned a song that sounds like Queen before – or at least, not one that apes ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ as brazenly as ‘United States Of Eurasia’. Nor have they come up with a song that you half expect Rhianna to start crooning over at any second – ‘Undisclosed Desires’ changes all that with its R’n’B strings and dancefloor beat. And yet, both these experiments come off surprisingly well, somehow sounding like enough of a natural fit for the band to avoid seeming ridiculous.
It’s not all good though – ‘Guiding Light’ struggles to sound like anything other than an anaemic version of ‘Invincible’, and unfortunately there does come a point where things start to get a bit too ridiculous. Specifically, ‘I Belong To You’ is where the record jumps the shark – the incongruous piano-funk balladry that begins the song is bad enough, but then Bellamy turns the sentimentality up to obscene levels, crooning in French over schmaltzy piano and mournful strings. Add in the jazzy clarinet that kicks in towards the end of the song, and it’s all enough to make you feel a little bit ill. To complete the album’s descent into the bizarre, the three-part ‘Exogenesis’ symphony that follows sees the record turn right round and start repeatedly doing fucking backflips over the increasingly bemused shark. It’s basically ‘Muse: The Opera’, condensed into about 12 minutes or so – sounds promisingly audacious in theory, but in practice it spends half its time not really going anywhere: It’s just epic for epic’s sake.
As a whole then, The Resistance suffers a little from diminishing returns – its biggest hitters and most worthwhile experiments are largely contained in the first 4 tracks, and from thereon out the quality is uneven, to put it generously. Not a patch on Black Holes & Revelations then – but Muse should be commended for at least being willing to experiment, rather than just trying to turn the epic factor up even higher.