It's not really about the music anymore, is it. It's about the breadth and height of everything Muse do. It's about leaving a jet-stream in the sky. Any tune with a trajectory lower than the cosmos is presumably discarded, with arrangements generally sounding as expensive as battleships (intergalactic battleships, that is). Of course the music is not exactly incidental either; Muse's full-on fifth album The Resistance is packed hard with virtuoso musicianship, rigorous instrumental freak-outs and harmonies beamed between dimensions. It's simply what they do now, no matter how ridiculous it may seem. Long gone are the days of the feisty yet formal English post-grunge band with a falsetto bolt-on. So let the madness commence; "Uprising" gives the Dr Who theme tune a stomping glam makeover, "Undisclosed Desires" is like a prog-rock Justin Timberlake, "Guiding Light" is the sound of Elvis' "Can't Help Falling In Love" being jettisoned into the ether in an escape pod and "Exogenesis Symphony Part 1 (Overture)" is ambitious equal parts 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Flaming Lips and a belting Brian May style guitar solo sent straight from the roof of Buckingham Palace. They've not moved on enormously from the grandiosity of Black Holes & Revelations, not that it matters--they've found the place where they're most comfortable. That place just happens to be balanced on the precipice, travelling at light speed in expensive space-suits. --James Berry
As with so many 21st-century mainstream (or quasi-mainstream) rock albums unafraid to stuff 10 tons of quasi-operatic melodrama into 60 or so minutes, The Resistance will be easily dismissed by those into the Grizzly Bear/Dirty Projectors brand of orchestrated art-rock. You know, where the album has a pleasing ramshackle feel under the surface-level skillfulness, the sense that the vocal acrobatics or tricky instrumental interplay could suddenly veer into uncomfortable, mock amateurish expressionism.
By contrast, you never get the sense that Muse are anything less than in total control of their "difficult" music at all times. Throughout The Resistance, frontman Matt Bellamy is ready and willing to foreground his chops, be it tickling the ivories, hopping octaves, or tossing out increasingly tasteful solos. If the The Resistance is "about" anything, aside from the conceptual malarkey encoded in the lyrics, it's about mastery, ego-security, etc. It's the kind of all-caps, no half-stepping ART-ROCK that closes with a three-part mini-epic so shameless about its own classic rock bigness that it's billed as a "Symphony", complete with "Overture". Jumped ship yet?
For the wary or outright dismissive, however, The Resistance is also a very smartly sequenced album. it opens with the most "pop" sequence of the band's career, a three-song sequence aping the stadium-grade synth-rock of Depeche Mode at their crossover height. It then segues into a middle section of hard (but not too hard) rock, nodding in the direction of grottier bands like Queens of the Stone Age or System of a Down without stripping away the sparkle. Only then does The Resistance shift into the sort of fist-pumping, kitchen-sink prog you were probably expecting. It's canny: Leading the uncommitted down a drum machine paved path of catchy 1980s revivalism and straight into the path of an army of kids straddling the gap between entry-level classical and "Headbanger's Ball".
And "army" is right: Unity in the face of faceless post-industrial society grinding down beautiful stuff like love and friendship is perhaps Muse's great theme. Bellamy is constantly tossing out mass-shout-along-ready lyrics like "we will be victorious" and "they won't stop breaking us down." Songs get titles like "Uprising" and (natch) "Resistance". Things break down easily into a "we" (rarely does an "I" creep into Bellamy's songwriting) and a "they." Your age-old, rock-standard good (we, the fans) vs. evil (them, the nebulous straight government-corporate nexus) set-up, got it?
But unlike the creepy mass-rally overtones that so bugged early rock critics about music designed to pack civic centers-- or thrilled them when it was punk leading in the kids in revolt-- you get the sense that Bellamy's lyrics are an outgrowth of wanting to make his music as big and inclusive as possible, rather than any inchoate political impulses. No doubt Bellamy fancies himself some sort of social crusader, but his mush-headed vagueness (like Bono and Chris Martin and just about any Brit frontman operating on this scale) is designed to inspire warm fuzzy feelings of togetherness and resistance rather than offer any ten-point plan to overthrow the emotionally fascist modern world.
So let's take the warm fuzzy bigness of the music at face value. It's understandable if the Buckley mannerisms and Mercury multi-tracking on "The United States of Eurasia" aren't your cup of tea. You may cringe at the Pavlov-approved crescendos that surge through "Guiding Light", the sort of thing where you imagine a ProTools preset producers have nicknamed "10,000 People Holding up Bics They Bought Especially for the Concert." And then there's "Exogenesis", the aforementioned "Symphony" in three parts. Now a Daydream Nation style knowing "trilogy" this is not. There's massed strings. There's half-time chest-beating theatrics ready for flashpots and Vegas set design. If it's not quite Keith Emerson's territory-- or Celine Dion's, for that matter-- it's a similarly grandiose ballpark where the fans wear slightly different clothes.
But still: I'm a punk at heart, suspicious about the meeting of rock band and orchestra after all these years, and even I have to admit there's something cornily beautiful about "Exogenesis", like Radiohead with no fear of pushing things until the motor bursts into flames. Judged on its own terms-- out of control scale, genre-smashing ambition, musical and vocal virtuosity-- The Resistance is a success. It's just the kind of success where you have to appreciate a guy who builds his own guitars daring himself to make the next song even more rapturously overstuffed and classically cathartic. It's an album you can embrace or get the fuck out of its way. There's really no in between. It's high-test pop-prog hokum, better suited to mashing buttons to kill wizards or gorging on a stack of four-color batshittery than working on your thesis or darning your socks.
Video games or comics are probably a closer comparison than most of the music Pitchfork covers, actually. There's a prevailing idea that there's something spiritually and emotionally dangerous about grown men and women spending most of their alone-time immersed in improbable fantasies where interpersonal relationships and the traumas of the real world can be dispatched/ignored via magical powers. But do you want to wallow in grey impotence in the face of quotidian bullshit every damn minute of the day? Escape, whether via Matt Bellamy or the Immortal Iron Fist or the fine folks at Nintendo, shouldn't be a dirty word, at least when used sparingly.
— Jess Harvell, September 15, 2009