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Music Review: Muse – The Resistance

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While driving home yesterday, I switched on the radio and caught part of a BBC show called The Strand. The host (Mark Coles) and BBC Russian Service correspondent Anya Dorodenko were going back and forth about the band Muse. She loved them for their tendency to go over the top both musically and lyrically. Coles was having none of it, stating that music was a rehash of 1970s themes complete with immature lyrics.

Oh no, not the lyrics thing again!

See, that's one of the reasons I got into writing in the first place. There just were too many reviews out there that focused too much on the words and not enough on the music. I just hated it when the the last sentence would slide by with no indication of what the record actually sounded like. It's not that I completely ignore the words, it's just that the music has to grab me first. Even then, I tend to hear the lyrics not as a whole but more like short, asynchronous pieces of verse. Which words stick is a complete mystery to me. Some parts resonate and others don't. Weird, huh?

When I first heard Muse (only going back so far as 2004's Absolution), I thought they sounded an awful lot like Radiohead with nods to both Nirvana and Coldplay. Then came Black Holes & Revelations, still with echoes of Thom Yorke and Queen by way of Phillip Glass. Yes, I said Phillip Glass.

Gee, all of these names being tossed out. Shouldn't it be time to pull that tired reviewer cliché 'derivative' out of the reviewer bag of lazy? I suppose so, but in this case I hear a lot of what Muse does as being in tribute to their influences. Face it, when "United States of Eurasia" explodes from introductory ballad to full-on Freddie Mercury (and Brian May!) bombast, it's just too obvious to not be a tribute. Would Freddie have used some Chopin samples? Hell, yes! Plus, it's a load of fun. Does anybody remember fun?

Other 'derivative' moments on The Resistance: the opening "Uprising," delivered with a glammy synth swagger and periodic stabs of guitar; the moody anti-something anthem of a title track (love the Queen-ish "It could be wrong" refrains); "Undisclosed Desires" (close your eyes and think of Depeche Mode); and the very Bowie-like "I Belong To You." No wait, that was Queen again. Sorry.

That last song reminded me of how snotty critcs like to throw around the 'pretentious' word. "I Belong To You" is subtitled "+Mon Coeur S'Ouvre A Ta Voix." The snotty critic might joke that it means "I Love To Sing In French Because I'm A Pretentious Twat." I'd never do that. Besides, Matthew Bellamy actually culled and re-arranged material from Saint-Saens' opera "Samson and Delilah.? Some might call that pretentious, I lean toward 'ambitious.'

The Resistance ends with the "Exogenesis" symphony suite. Humans have destroyed the earth and are leaving to carry on the race elsewhere in the universe. I had my doubts but have to say that Bellamy wrote some pretty amazing orchestration here. It made me think of something that Sigur Ros might do if they "went big."

So, is Muse just rehashing their 1970s influences and running them through a modern prog blender? I don't think so. Even if they are, my ear parts like it anyway.

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About Mark Saleski

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    Muse is gloriously ridiculous here. If any criticism could be leveled at them in the past, it was maybe that they indulged in all of the things you mention, but they didn’t quite do everything they could to take it as far as they could. There always seemed to be a sense of “we’re very serious rock stars” to their earlier stuff, but on Black Holes And Revelations they really started to show that they understood what Queen knew from the beginning. And that’s that you can be dead serious about what you do but be 100% entertainment. They achieved that here and it’s, as you say, FUN. Really glad we have bands like this today.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Good review.

  • Josh Hathaway

    I’ll be seeing Muse live, opening for U2 on Tuesday. Maybe that will unlock them for me.

  • http://johnpeltier.wordpress.com/2009/09/16/is-innovation-really-that-simple/ JP

    Nice review – exactly why the immaturity of the lyrics doesn’t bother me.

    To be honest, modern rock has turned into a mix of screaming and muddled same-sounding indie bands. These guys (and their far more eclectic cousins, Radiohead) are the antidote to the boring, dull modern rock landscape.

    Go Muse!

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Point taken Saleski. I love Radiohead, but if I were judging them on lyrics alone, I’d have to discount them for stuff like “yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon” alone.

    And that’s coming from a self-confessed “lyrics guy”.

    -Glen

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    heh. well glen, that’s the good side about not being a lyrics person…the ‘bad’ ones don’t bother me either.

  • zingzing

    glen, mark, jp, etc.

    when it comes to being a fanboy, collecting, etc, my favorite band in the world is probably new order. one of their best songs, “perfect kiss,” includes the following line, which i repeat for your pleasure: “tonight i should have stayed at home, playing with my pleasure zone.”

    i have no fucking clue what this song is about, but it involves guns (penises?) and a very unstable person. that’s pretty much the way the story ends, with barney telling us all that it would have been better if he had just sat around masturbating. (there’s another verse, but it’s just kinda random, if strange:
    “Then a fight breaks out on your street
    You lose another broken heart in a land of meat
    My friend, he took his final breath
    Now I know the perfect kiss is the kiss of death.”)

    barney was always good for a few absolutely batshit, what the hell are you talking about kinda lines.

    still, the song is an absolute masterpiece of spector gone synth-mad. it was supposed to end with porky pig saying “that’s all folks,” but warners wouldn’t let them have it (even though they had just signed to a subsidiary, i believe. (that may have been the next year.) as it stands, it ends with a bleating sheep. fucking mad.

    the video on youtube is pretty awesome. directed by some demme or another. can’t recall which. and it’s live, so that’s pretty cool. the one with the best sound is posted by “dsmusiclab.”

    fucking awesome song. dumbass lyrics.

  • attic

    FINALLY, a review that GETS what Muse is all about! I wish you worked at Rolling Stone, cause those fools over there are as clueless as you can get when it comes to music. Critics always pick on Matt’s lyrics, always calling them “pretentious” and “cheesy”, but that’s because they don’t GET the lyrics. They can’t figure out where he’s coming from or what they mean, so because they don’t understand him, it means his lyrics are crap. I don’t always understand some Regina Spektor songs, but I still believe she’s a clever songwriter, even if I may not always know what the hell she’s talking about. Lyrics, along with Matt Bellamy’s voice, are the centerpiece of Muse’s music to me. I think he’s a brilliant lyricist, he always writes from the heart, and he does it VERY eloquently. The people that criticize his songwriting skills are people who probably couldn’t write a song to save their lives. He happens to share the same birthday as Cole Porter, a man notable for his songwriting, so maybe there’s something there.

  • attic

    BTW, you mentioned Resistance, I Belong To You and United States of Eurasia sounding like Queen, but you forgot Guiding Light, owing to the Brian May-style guitar solo that seriously makes you wonder if Matt didn’t borrow his Red Special guitar for this album. And as for his voice, he’s always had a fantastic voice, but the way it has matured on this album is truly mind-blowing. It’s the best he’s ever sounded. The resemblance between his and Freddie’s voice is astounding. At this point, if you were to play a Queen record and a Muse record back-to-back to a person unfamiliar with both bands, they would assume it’s the same person singing. They’ve got so much in common, both musically, intellectually, and to a certain degree, personally that they could easily be father and son. Or distant cousins at the very least. Cause I mean, what are the odds that Matt would incorporate Chopin at the end of US of E, when Freddie was a Chopin fan? Weird coincidence, huh?

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkGdH1AMJ94 sob

    have a look at this Muse’s new album cover in STOP MOTION :)
    please rate it and comment if you like
    and also spread to others about this video
    love music, love muse :)

  • http://deadsoundstatus.blogspot.com/ Jade

    good review! but you know, i’m so getting sick of people comparing them to Radiohead! Even though Muse does take influence from different bands, they make it their own as well, and they do it brilliantly. Someone wanna help me out? I just started my own blog. I just reviewed this album, a young teen’s point of view. anybody wanna give it a looksie? I need some, comments, criticism, and obviously views! go muse!

    help a girl out man