Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Musing

So, new album by Muse, The Resistance. I was expecting big things, Black Holes and Revelations being what it was. Did it live up to my expectations?

In a word, no. In more words, here's a song-by-song account of why I'm not saying it's a bad album, but that it wasn't quite what I was hoping for:

Uprising

The first dozen bars are very, very KLF and the Timelords Doctorin' the Tardis. We're then getting into some typical Bellamy vocals - punchy verses, key change into chorus, soaring harmonies through chorus, smash into the bridge, climax and then an instrumental, back into chorus for the climax.

Look, it's musically a good song. Very KLF and the Timelords, as I said - even the bass line and clapping and chanting is there. I do enjoy it. But. The lyrics. Forcing drugs on us? We need to watch our flag ascend? Am I listening to a Muse album or at a Marxist rally?*

It sets the tone for the rest of the album, with a few exceptions.

Resistance

Ah, here comes the piano. And Bellamy, this was why I fell in love with your voice. The slightly-out-of-control vibrato in all the right places.... what? You've gone all Radiohead/Darkness on me in the bridge there. And now... this chorus seriously could have been lifted from any one of a dozen Darkness songs. And Oh, god. I think I've just worked out what this song is about. You know in 1984, the two main characters Winston and Julia conduct a love affair? I'm fairly sure this song is about that.

1984? Really? Um, right. Moving right along.

Undisclosed Desires

I have to confess that I've had this song on perpetual replay for about a week. It's got a surprising beat, and the string riff is pure stylised R&B. It's very un-Muse, and I love it. I was a bit iffy about the lyrics in the chorus at one stage ("I want to reconcile the violence in your heart/I want to recognise your beauty's not just a mask/I want to exorcise the demons from your past/I want to satisfy the undisclosed desires in your heart"), but really, it's a small quibble when you see a band stepping outside their comfort zone so successfully. I seriously could not work out what about this song it was that was so different, until I realised it was a clever, wordy pop/r&b song. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that when it's done well, and this is.

United States of Eurasia (Collateral Damage)

I looked at the title of the song and groaned out loud. Oh, Muse. Aren't you a bit old to be dipping into that bucket? Come on, now. We aren't in Year 11 English Literature anymore.

But, this song is surprising in a completely unsurprising way, if you take my meaning. Let's ignore the words altogether, and it's a great Muse/KLF/Queen hybrid (I will not be surprised, as with the Darkness' last album when the hands of a Queen producer were clearly evident to see a KLF hand in the making of this album. Someone involved in the making of this KLF'd this album up good). Yes, it's wanky. Yes, there is something that's either got pretenses at a Chopin piece or some kind of Mazurka. I can't be positive which. But musically and vocally, it's good.

Add the lyrics back in, and I'm skipping it every time. God, Muse. Orwell? How original!

Guiding Light

This song seems to start without an introduction. Which, if you're me, is a great thing. Some people will be discombobulated by it, though, and the slightly predictable harmonies and melody (Seriously, I could guess where it was going note-for-note on the first run through) couple to make this a skippable song that has a great concept and great lyrics that falls so short it pissed me off.

Unnatural Selection

Starts off with organ music. And Bellamy's voice with a fairly blase' effect - Oh for the love of, I'm looking this up. Who produced this? - Muse, with Ah. Mike Stent as "engineer". A KLF man from way back. That explains the Doctorin' the Tardis feel to Uprising. Oh, and for those playing along at home, it WAS a Chopin piece in United States of Eurasia. Score two to me!

Apart from that and more KLF fingerprints in the form of guttural chanting, we're back on track here. Fast paced prog-rock at it's best.

MK Ultra

I'm tipping this song isn't going to slay me, folks.

Oh, here we go. More punchy prog-rock. This is what I was looking for, Muse. I have no idea why you're writing about a minor Australian blogger, but keep it coming. Electronica aplenty, and soaring vocals. I could eat it with a spoon.

Which, now that I think about it, is a bit of a sad indictment on me, really.

I Belong to You (Mon Couer S'ouvre A Ta Voix)

My shambolic French tells me the above means Doesn't everyone cool have a song in both English and French these days? Dear Muse, Robbie Williams did this two albums ago. Not a good precedent to be following, depending on your feelings on Williams.

Have to admit Muse did it better though. This really is a return to Black Holes and Revelations Muse. With the French tagged on, of course. Bellamy truly has a beautiful, well controlled and well developed voice, whatever you think of his music. This is a showcase for Muse's greatest instrument - Bellamy.

Exogenesis Symphony Part 1

Musically, again, we're in brilliance territory. Bellamy is truly using his voice as an instrument without grandiosity or the glory noting that usually accompanies someone of his talent. I realise his voice isn't every ones cup of tea, but what he does with it - brilliant.

Exogenesis Symphony Part 2

Holy shit. The opening piano makes me despair. In a very, very good way. I've just started learning, and I can manage a very simple Mozart Minuet with Jeremy standing on the other side of the room telling me to get my eyes on the page and off my fingers every now and then. To be able to play the opening phrases of this is now my aim. Good god. Musically, again, I am floored. But, nine times out of ten I'm skipping, because it's not what I'm looking for when I reach for the Muse.

Yes, I'm a hard task-master, and I change the tasks at a moments notice. I'm a fickle music listener, and no doubt in six months time, this'll be what's on repeat. But here and now, again, musically I'm sighing in envy, but it's leaving me kind of cold.

Exogenesis Symphony Part 3

If Part 2 is the grumbling, rushing crescendo, Part 3 is the pretty, sweeping lullaby. Technically, I think it's more waltzy, and I can here it as the dance scene in about a hundred TV and movie scenes already. You heard it here first, people.

Again, Bellamy lets the musical landscape they've woven around us do the talking, and his vocal work, even when it soars is muted, constrained and modest.

All in all, I'm talking up the music and Bellamy's awesome vocals because the songwriting itself is not my cup of tea. Look, if you're a 17 year old reading 1984 for the first time, you're going to love it. Anyone else I'm guessing is going to think it self-indulgent wankery. And they're not entirely wrong.

A few songs in there are standout: Uprising, Undisclosed Desires, Unnatural Selection. Funny, all the ones starting with U.

Go out and buy it, but be prepared to overlook faults that just weren't there in Blackholes and Revelations.

*I have no idea what goes on at Marxist rallies. Or even if Marxist rallies exist.

** EDIT** Minor spelling errors corrected. Numerous, but minor.

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