Retrospect: Muse – ‘The Resistance’ (2009)

ORIGINS (OF SYMMETRY?)

The Resistance marked a radical change in direction for Devonshire-based alt-rock band Muse. Following heightened international success from the Black Holes & Revelations-era, Muse were looking for alternate ways to release new music. Citing evolving technology and a landscape where an artist could release what they want, when they want, Muse toyed with the idea of releasing a string of singles, and staying away from a conventional album release. This approach was eventually short-lived as The Resistance was announced in the most conventional method possible – a few months before release, with an accompanying lead single.

Muse initially hired Rick Rubin to produce the new record. Ultimately, these recordings were abandoned, with the band opting to produce it themselves (frontman Matthew Bellamy cited Rubin taught them “how not to produce”). Prior to release, there was speculation of a “fifteen-minute space-rock solo” song, consequently whetting fans’ appetites for more of that special brew that was crafted on the band’s sophomore record Origins of Symmetry. Bellamy quashed these claims and reassured audiences that it was more of a “symphony”, cut into three-parts and that he’d been working on for several years.

Low and behold, Muse’s fifth studio album The Resistance released 14 September 2009.

IT WOULDN’T BE A MUSE ALBUM WITHOUT ARPEGGIATED SYNTH, RIGHT?

Thematically, The Resistance further verified Matthew Bellamy’s fascination with political conspiracies, government uproars, space and religion. It was perhaps their most focused album to date, yet 2015’s Drones, whilst a little worse in quality, was a concept album with a driven narrative.

The Resistance was a major catalyst in constituting what the band resemble today. Uprising, the opening track and lead single, is unashamedly a protest song, with Bellamy’s emphatic chants doing well to enthuse mimickers. Put the cheesy chorus aside and Bellamy does write some good material in the verses here. By all means, it wouldn’t be a Muse single without some sci-fi synth, in which audiences humorously drew comparisons to the Doctor Who theme tune.

Sonically, The Resistance was the last record to see the band naturally incorporate traditional instrumentation, such as piano and orchestration. In past records, such as Absolution, these traditional methods played a significant role in the band’s core sound. The Resistance further exemplifies this, yet with 2012’s The 2nd Law and its scattergun of styles, as well as the rockier approach of Drones, The Resistance was the last record to rest on those laurels.

There are notable influences weaved into the record; biggest of which being Queen (which amusingly show up in droves on The 2nd Law). United States of Eurasia begins with delicate piano, swiftly joined by violin and Bellamy’s soft croons, eventually exploding into an outcry reminiscent of Freddie Mercury on Bohemian Rhapsody. A symphonic flurry of Arabian-inspired melodies then presents itself, culminating in a demonic Bellamy chanting “EURASIA!”.

 

MISGUIDED LIGHT

Unfortunately, there are times where Muse’s excessive grandeur goes amiss. Guiding Light, a sure-fire low-point in the band’s late-era discography, is remarkably over-produced, with glistening synths that plague the entire cut. Bellamy’s vocals are mundanely dominant, with Dominic Howard’s snare drum reverberating infinitely through the mix. Yet, Bellamy does redeem himself slightly with a joyous and rather technical guitar solo.

Muse take a stab at electro-synth pop in Undisclosed Desires, consequently requiring a stern acquired taste to appreciate. The members swap out their usual instruments for their electronic counterparts, namely a keytar and drum machine, whilst Chris Wolstenholme adds some rare slap bass into the soundscape. Oh, and the accompanying music video is as glitzily outrageous as you’d expect.

Another highly experimental piece, I Belong to You is an upbeat love tune that features stabbing pianos, funky synths and a bizarre, out of place bass clarinet solo. Bellamy sings the middle section in French, which ultimately ends up sounding nothing short of pretentious. It could be said that the exceptional sound difference between these tracks paved the way for the stylistic and structural nightmare that was The 2nd Law.

 

“MATT, WHERE ARE THE GUITAR RIFFS?”

Bellamy’s accomplished guitar-riffing is not completely absent and lost within the symphonics, as demonstrated in the New Born-like ‘Unnatural Selection’. Muse turn to their prog-ier side and whilst it still sounds grandiosely anthemic, it offers a few twists and turns throughout its lifespan. Howard’s kick pedal just doesn’t quit, whilst Bellamy’s guitar constantly drives the track. Muse channel their inner-most Pink Floyd during the downtempo, blues-y bridge as Bellamy’s intimate guitar soloing piggybacks Wolstenholme’s subdued bass line.

Similarly, subsequent cut MK Ultra begins with an erratic sci-fi-tinged lick, before descending into down-tuned riffing bedlam. Ultimately, these two cuts become the more memorable takeaways from the record, as the band once again prove that guitar and piano can coexist in a good rock song.

 

PIECE DE RESISTANCE

The three-part, thirteen-minute Exogenesis Symphony is arguably the greatest achievement of the record. Perhaps regarding it as a traditional symphony, in the company of Beethoven or Stravinsky, is silly. But for a small-town trio who started out writing competent alt-rock tunes in their teens, it should be regarded as an accomplished feat, that surely took some guts to allow it to take up the closing chunk of the record.

Pt. 1 (Overture) is undeniably spectacular, opening with a synchronised orchestra and arpeggiated horns, Bellamy soon enters with his haunting, falsetto groans. This is where Muse’s grandiosity really, really pays off. Howard’s stinted drum performance channels Massive Attack, whilst Bellamy delivers an ethereal guitar solo, harmoniously reaching a climax with the arpeggiating orchestra (without a doubt the highlight of the record).

Pt. 2 (Cross-Pollination) adopts a more sombre ballad-like feel, with the middle section giving way to Wolstenholme’s twangy bass, and high-pitch synth once again. Bellamy’s Chopin-inspired piano smoothly transitions into Pt. 3 (Redemption), gradually building volume through a rather beautiful amalgamation of classical instrumentation. Bellamy closes the record softly pleading to “start over again”. Exogenesis is the definitive point when The Resistance can be fully realised for its ambitious scope and musical experimentation.

 

LEGACY

The majority of critics praised The Resistance for it’s genre-breaking scope and Bellamy’s stellar arrangement of classical-inspired instrumentation. It also won the Grammy award for Best Rock Album in 2011. Where does it stand in the band’s studio album discography? Slap bang in the middle.

Cumulatively, The Resistance does not reach the heights of prior records (excluding the debut Showbiz). It’s unfathomable to believe that Muse could ever top the creative streak they were on during the release of Origin of Symmetry, Absolution & Black Holes & Revelations, and these records will no doubt be regarded as modern rock classics in twenty years. The Resistance, whilst exceeding the quality of the band’s other studio records, comfortably sits outside of the ‘big three’, very much preserving a love/hate relationship with fans and audiences alike.

Essential tracks: Uprising // Unnatural Selection // Exogenesis: Symphony

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