Muse had been steadily ramping up the symphonics over the span of their fifteen-year career, so it would seem to be a matter of inevitability that a wildly over the top album (complete with a sectioned fifteen-minute mess of a "symphony"), full of flamboyance and doom, serve as the band’s next step.
Frontman Matthew Bellamy claimed early on that The Resistance, the follow-up to 2006’s inescapable space-rock odyssey Black Holes and Revelations would be a classical endeavor, and I suppose a three-part fit of orchestral ambition would sort of fit that bill, but the pretense runs deep, and the kitsch of supposed oppression and Orwellian paranoia saturates and bogs down what could’ve been a perfectly respectable album. In short, the damn thing is far too overcooked.
Switching derivatives from Radiohead to Queen was a smart choice, albeit a predictable one. But the inconsistency of The Resistance, while trying to be everything to everyone it seems, costs them dearly. The R&B groove of "Undisclosed Desires" does a flying leap over the border of embarrassment, while "Unnatural Selection" is a rocktastic blast of what Muse could be doing best, if they weren’t so dedicated to musical schizophrenia. I found myself returning to the song as the album progressed, wishing they would’ve stayed a little closer to the genetics of the track for the rest of the album.
"Resistance" begins with genuine promise, the percussion arriving like a whirlwind under pianos and ethereal atmospherics. But once Bellamy sets in with the melodramatic vocals, all hope is lost. It’s like a bad sequel to Phantom Of The Opera with paranoia-stroking lyricism and chanting counter-harmonies that are as cheese-tastic as they come. The crescendo is admirable, but based in such over the top emoting that it’s impossible to take seriously. There’s an overwhelming sense that the epic expressionism simply doesn’t mean anything.
The electronica leanings aren’t bound to go over well with casual fans looking for rock triumph, but not much about Muse has ever seemed casual. Bassist Chris Wolstenholme makes a strong showing here though, pretense be damned, and it’s evident on The Resistance that his craft dedication is steadily building new bridges, vying with drummer Dominic Howard for control of the low end.
The sweeping, operatic “United States of Eurasia” is a shameless ode to Queen, with a dash of Chopin’s Nocturne In E-Flat Major thrown in. Chronicling an unwinnable war (good thing they’re not Americans! Michelle Bachmann would eat them alive) with a piano sonata conclusion, much like its onset. The track’s ambition pales in comparison to "Exogenesis Symphony,” a three-part overly ambitious and sweeping modern rock symphony (see? It’s right there in the title if you missed what they’re going for) that screams indulgence.
Bellamy makes his case for American empathy in the paranoid “Uprising,” aligning himself with the maligned masses with catchy-cheese one-offs like "It’s time the fat cats had a heart attack!" It’s actually a surprise the words "health care" weren’t used in the lyrics.
Muse has built an increasingly heavy tendency over the years to build an "us vs. them" thread that’s predictably kept the aimless youth angst engaged. Something’s been ripped away from us, Bellamy wails in varying ways, and love is the only form of resistance we can universally relate to. The parallel narrative to Winston and Julia from Orwell’s 1984 mirrors the author’s belief that love is the ultimate rebellion under the eyes of the oppressor.
That’s essentially the biggest problem with the album itself – for all its overwhelming declaration and warning, the message is lost in the mire. Muse could genuinely create memorable music if they’d get the hell over themselves, abandon the frills and Queen biting and push themselves to sound as promising as their earlier work.
CraveOnline’s Rating: 7 out of 10