So, you’re Muse. You’ve just finished touring your stratosphere smashing, and double platinum selling, album ‘Black Holes and Revelations’ by opening the new Wembley stadium. What now? Well, how does a grand space-rock opera around the themes of dystopian resistance from George Orwell’s literary masterpiece ‘1984’ sound? Too ambitious? Never one to rest on his laurels, the talismanic Matt Bellamy is not only crazy enough to attempt something of such outrageous scale but actually talented enough to pull it off… or just about.
Opening to the bass-driven beats of lead single ‘Uprising’, and its determined mantra of ‘they will not control us’, Bellamy’s cards are placed firmly on the table from the start. And, by the time ‘Resistance’ and ‘Undisclosed Desires’ have lain down their markers, Orwellian ideas of resistance drawing strength from love have been securely embedded as a central theme of the album. But a resistance to what? Political misgivings of the 21st century? Extra-terrestrial knights from the mountains of Cydonia? Who knows. Perhaps this vagueness is a deliberate ploy, with messages like ‘we will be victorious’ able to be adopted by any person in search of inspiration.
Whatever it is, love’s resistance emerges throughout the album like a closely felt heartbeat, keeping the often epic instrumentalism rooted in something touchingly human, and making it Muse’s most personal album to date.
Have I mentioned epic instrumentalism yet? After all, this is Muse. Well, longstanding fans looking for the guitar mayhem of ‘Plug-In Baby’ and ‘Hysteria’ may come away disappointed. A quick skip to the stupendous ‘Unnatural Selection’ is your best bet if it’s juicy riff action you’re after. But this would be missing the point. For this album is a lavishly produced tapestry, which manages to shift effortlessly through a range of musical genres and styles in its 54 minutes, one moment mimicking Queen or Chopin, the next Timbaland or even the Doctor Who theme.
Admittedly, there are some dubious moments. Perhaps most glaring is when Bellamy feels compelled to serenade his lover in French (yes, French!) on the otherwise jaunty number ‘I Belong to You’. But second single ‘Undisclosed Desires’ will surely be the controversial moment that divides fans, due to some R&B vibes that at first appear misplaced and somewhat off-putting, but on repeated listens grow into something rather lovable.
And this also rings true of ‘The Resistance’ as a whole. There is no doubt such stylistic dabbling will initially invite ridicule but the overall impression is of a band thoroughly enjoying themselves, having mastered their sound to an extent where they can revel in such playfulness whilst still coming across as very distinctively Muse. Audiences, on repeat listens, will come to revel in it too.