Thursday, September 24, 2009

Stop It.

Muse, The Resistance [2009]
[Warner Bros./Helium 3]

A true resistance movement, in the classical sense, does more than just overturn the status quo. A truly influential resistance is one that stands for something greater, that meets traditional wisdom with fierce internal power and clashes with the establishment in such a meaningful way that, in the event of their failure, future generations can still look to their example for strength. If a resistance is truly important, it will ring throughout history and impact even those who oppose it simply through the strength of its ideals.

Whatever resistance Muse is attempting to mount with their new album will probably be forgotten before the last song is finished playing.

Muse has always been a fairly well-respected band for their musical ability and for singer Matthew Bellamy’s stirring, if divisive, voice. They’ve been significantly less respected for essentially being a rip-off of early Radiohead and Queen. All the musical talent in the world can’t make up for derivative songwriting. Their “Guitar Hero”-powered hit single, “Knights of Cydonia” (from their previous album “Black Holes and Revelations”) was basically a cowboy’s version of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Unfortunately for the band (and for the listener), this trend of style-biting has continued with surprising vigor. The cheese-laden, piano-ballad-to-hard-rock jam “United States of Eurasia (+Collateral Damage)” should have Brian May considering litigation. The guitar solo in the equally grandiose “Guiding Light” even has May’s classic guitar sound, and bears such a close resemblance to his work it made me check the liner notes to see if it had been sampled from “A Night At The Opera.”

Everything about “The Resistance” is big, big, big, with no thought to what it’s really all for. Clearly, Bellamy is trying to make a point or, more accurately, a million points at once, but they’re so vapidly basic, one would have to wonder if he’s even seen a newspaper in the last two years or if he simply watched John Carpenter’s satirical “They Live” and decided that would be enough information to write his lyrics around.

The lyrics are, if you’ll forgive me, beyond stupid. The most interesting line on the whole album comes on “Unnatural Selection” (a title so clever it can only be considered with absolute reverence and awe): “Counterbalance is commotion/We’re not droplets in the ocean.” Pretty good. If only there was one more phrase on the entire album that was evocative in any way.

Just try to wrap your brain around the sheer poetry of their lead-off single “Uprising”: “Rise up and take the power back/It’s time the fat cats had a heart attack/Their time’s coming to an end/It’s time to rise up and watch our flag ascend.” You’d be forgiven for having to read it more than once. It’s super confusing. It’s, like, totally abstract and deep and junk.

He is right about one thing: fat cats are probably more likely to have a heart attack. Check your feline’s cholesterol before it’s too late.

On every song, Bellamy howls about wanting truth and fighting back against the lies that “they” are feeding us. He belts ad nauseam about power and right and wrong and victory. But, aside from being alarmist nonsense, his blathering results in absolutely nothing. There are no solutions offered other than “rising up,” whatever it is he thinks that means. Let’s say he gets what he wants. Let’s say that everybody bands together and decides to revolt against whoever or whatever. Great. Then what? Is that going to be explained on the next album?

Basically, it’s all problems, no solutions.

Even if you can ignore the nonsense lyrics, the music is hardly inspired or original. After listening through the album several times, I still can’t tell which song is which unless I’m looking at the track listing. And it’s not like Muse isn’t trying. If anything, they’re trying too hard. The production value of each song is so cavernously huge there is no gravity; if music traveled in the vacuum of space, it would sound like “The Resistance,” and everything would be too huge to be discernable.

What makes “The Resistance” so unpalatable is not simply its awful wordplay and bloated song structures, but the pretentiousness that has gone into its every detail. Muse clearly believes they’ve made something Earth-shattering, and every gluttonous minute of music feels more like three men paying homage to their own greatness rather than a band simply making a good sound.

The second half of “I Belong to You” is an excerpt from the opera “Samson and Delilah.” “Exogenesis,” the album’s three-part finale, is treated, and labeled, as an epic “symphony.” Rock bands that aspire to something more can be great. But rock bands that aspire to more and fail simply come off looking foolish, especially when they try to pass themselves off as leaders of some great movement.

And in the end, that’s what it’s all about. Muse is trying to lead some form of revolution, to affect some sort of musical or political transformation. But to anyone who’s actually paying attention it sounds like what Muse is resisting most strongly isn’t the voice of power, but rather the voice of reason.

-Christian H.
This review appeared (in a heavily edited form) in the Minnesota State University Reporter.


Snath said...

I was afraid that this was the direction the band was going, just based on the difference between Absolution and Black Holes and Revelations. That's really too bad, as I was a huge fan of the former, and enjoyed some of the songs off of the latter. Ho hum.

TK said...

Ah hell. I unabashedly and unapologetically adore this band, and every single one of their albums. No, they're not as smart as they'd like to believe, but I still enjoy the hell out of them. I haven't picked this up yet, but I'm sure I will. That said, your points are all very, very valid ones. Maybe they're a guilty pleasure, except that I don't feel any guilt.

Sean said...

Wow. I didn't see this coming.

I love this album. Loved it from the first listen. Are they derivative? Sure. But I haven't heard anybody do Queen this well in ages. Are they not as smart as they think? They're not. But there's enough fist-pumping and crescendo to stop me caring. Personally, I'm not listening to be genuinely inspired to rise up; I'm listening because it rocks, and it makes me forget for a few moments that for all my political and social opinions, I am--in those arenas--ineffectual in insignificant. If I don't have the drive to be an activist, at least my music can help me pretend.

All the same, very nice piece.

Sean said...

Also, despite my disagreement with you, I am fairly amused that you labeled the post "stupid" and "shitty."

It's the little things that make life worth living.

MelBivDevoe said...

Hmmm. I wasn't sure what to expect of this album based on the lead single. Add me to the group that unabashedly loves Muse. Sometimes, I don't really care what they're singing about... I just want to be crushed by the loud music. I will be getting this album no matter what.

George said...

I love Muse, but I've only listened to about half of this album, and it's not as good as Black Holes and Revelations, but it's still much better than you make it out to be Christian. This was a good review, but I still totally disagree.

Yeah, Matt Bellamy is a paranoid lunatic, but he still writes good songs, and fronts what is arguably the best band of this decade.

Also, I don't think "Cydonia" is anything like "Bohemian Rhapsody," except for the epic structure.

antoinette jeanine said...

My boyfriend (who introduced me to Muse four years ago) claims that the lyrics on this album are intentionally cheesy and asinine (as some form of satire, I suppose). I posited that this might be the case, but if it is then they are doing satire wrong, because the audience is generally supposed to be able to recognize the satire rather than assuming that Matt Bellamy's 10-year-old emo cousin wrote the songs for him.

Also, we have a theory that Muse got sick of being called derivative of Radiohead, so they decided to prove that they could be derivative of lots of other bands as well.

That said, I kind of enjoy the album for the reasons already listed by other commenters. Specifically, Exogenesis gets my rocks off as a former concert violinist- I just get happy when pop bands use strings.

George said...

On a completely unrelated matter, does this mean that TK's Blueprint 3 review will be here soon.

chris said...

I've never liked Muse, but it's never been because of the lyrics. It's because they're overly bombastic without any sense of fun. It all sounds so serious and over-the-top that I can't help but not take it seriously. Does that make any sense?

Spender said...

I don't dislike Muse but neither am I a huge fan. Their music is serviceable, the harmonies reminiscent of Styx, Queen and other bombastic bands from the 70's and they can toss out "instant classic rock" hits with seeming ease.
That said, I'm not compelled to give them much more than a cursory listening, usually when Mrs. Spender has them cranked up on her cd player. Their music isn't bad or good, just ok and that's what they share most with their 70's counterparts, I think... they are popular enough now but will eventually go the way of Kansas, Loverboy, Styx, etc. and become one of those bands that you "used to listen to".