They know exactly how guilty a pleasure they can be.
Chris Jones 2009-09-11
Less earnest and self-regarding than Radiohead and less free trade-hippie than Coldplay, Muse know exactly how guilty a pleasure they can be. Stuffing their albums with sing-along pomp and circumstance, their days as sub-prog pariahs have long since passed.
Comparing The Resistance with its 2006 predecessor, Black Holes and Revelations, is never going to be easy. The latter was an audacious leap into the hallowed area where cosmic meets commercial in a way not seen since Dark Side of the Moon. There is a distinct development here, but a self-produced heaping on of classical motifs and Queen-style histrionics isn’t necessarily the one we were hoping for. It’s not that they’re taking themselves too seriously, more that you’re never sure if the listener is supposed to.
It all starts splendidly with Uprising. While owing the late Delia Derbyshire some royalties with its Dr Who theme glitter stomp, it shows that Muse know how to whip up proper chart action. Pop sensibilities create a certain tension throughout, although by the closing three-part ‘symphony’, Exogenesis, they’ve jettisoned such relative restraint for string-drenched overkill, albeit laced with incomprehensible semi-sci-fi shenanigans. Still, this final folly/masterstroke works well because, despite its grand designs, it has a touch of ELO magic about it.
And speaking of grand designs, The Resistance retains Bellamy’s preposterous adherence to conspiracy theories – it’s maybe this that stops it being a solid gold classic. The mismatch between a rapidly maturing musical vision and chunks of John Perkins’s Confessions of an Economic Hitman puts Muse firmly back in the X File marked ‘life’s not fair and someone’s to blame’.
Having said that, quoting Chopin or Saint-Saëns verbatim isn’t necessarily maturation either, but time and again Muse remind you of how good they are at making your pulse race. MK Ultra is a coruscating live favourite-in-waiting, while I Belong to You has enough 70s piano-driven bounce to make you forget all the grim paranoia lying beneath the surface.
At times Bellamy can sound like a rock equivalent of Mulder as he wails “I want the truth!” on the rabble-rousing Unnatural Selection. Someone should tell him that the truth lies in his band’s very capable hands. Muse remain a national treasure, but not one that Nicolas Cage is likely to find.