Muse

"The Resistance" (Warner) -- 3 STARS

Matt Bellamy and Muse rarely preoccupy themselves with trivial concerns. You only need peruse the titles of a few of British rock trio’s most popular songs to get an idea of what their music is all about: “Time Is Running Out,” “Supermassive Black Hole,” “Apocalypse Please.” Once in a great while, as with their cover of “Feeling Good,” a curve ball might crop up, but for the most part, Muse sing about one thing: the end of the world.

A theme that big requires music of a similar scale to prop it up. For Muse, that means crunching guitar riffs and driving base lines overlaid with Matt Bellamy’s operatic, choirboy-gone-bad falsetto. When all these elements come together, Muse songs can be sublime slices of ominous, oddly euphoric prog rock; when they don’t, the songs veer quickly into the realm of the absurd. Through four albums of material, Muse’s releases have generally tended towards the former. “Black Holes and Revelations,” realeased in 2006, finally earned them popularity in the U.S. to match the fanatic following they enjoy in their native country, the U.K.

Their new record, “The Resistance,” has spent the last year or so building hype and collecting a variety of unlikely rumors about its contents—including speculation about African and electronic influences. The reality is less exotic. On “The Resistance,” Muse supplements the apocalyptic theme with a bit of government oppression and even a couple of twisted love songs, but mostly they don’t venture far from their familiar territory, both lyrically and musically.

The album kicks off with the two songs which stick closest of all to their formula. A pulsating bassline and whining, mesmeric synths propel the album’s first single “Uprising.” It’s all fairly predictable—especially the chorus, in which Matt Bellamy decries with typical fist-pumping authority: “They will not force us / They will stop degrading us / They will not control us / We will be victorious.” Track two, “Resistance,” starts slowly with a rudimentary piano riff, but it doesn’t take long to build to the same cathartic plateau as its predecessor. If it had been the second track on their debut album, it might have deserved high praise, but at this point, it just feels obvious.

After the album’s only real jump-up-and-down anthems, Muse shifts gears. “Undisclosed Desires” is an eminently danceable track with a syncopated Keytar line that will induce waves of envy in electronica/hip-hop artists everywhere. The lyrical theme is lust, not love, and that lust is articulated with a creepy, sickly kind of longing that will send a shiver or two down your spine: “I want to reconcile the demons from your past,” Bellamy croons, “I want to satisfy the undisclosed desires in your heart.”

The album’s middle section, which lags insufferably, is its biggest failure. “United States of Eurasia” is a plodding, overdone mess. The chorus has plenty of volume but not much else. Instrumentally, the vaguely Far Eastern interludes are dull and uninspired, and the lounge-style piano playing that closes out the song is just plain irrelevant. The whole six minutes feels like Queen sans the sing-alongs—and the tunes. This unmitigated disaster is immediately followed by the funereally paced “Guiding Light.” It’s no better than its predecessor, further proving that loudness doesn’t preclude tedium. “I Belong to You” is lively enough, but you can’t help but wonder whether Muse’s apocalyptic sound is really suited to such lovelorn lyrical material.

This litany of mediocrity is only interrupted by track six, “Unnatural Selection.” With shouted, drunken sports fan-style “hey!”s, and a surging guitar riff, it’s the kind of propulsive tune that could send Muse fans into paroxysms of joy at their live shows. The downside: at seven minutes, it’s about three too long.

Finally, we come to the song which has dominated press coverage of The Resistance: the three-part, 12-minute “Exogenesis: Symphony,” an exercise in infinitely pretentious bombast that few other artists would dare attempt. “Part I (Overture),” is an orchestral (literally, as it features a full orchestra), beautifully realized number. Sinisterly thrumming strings, triumphal brass flourishes, and unintelligibly mewed lyrics from Bellamy coalesce into something with unexpected emotional power, considering it’s entirely incomprehensible. “Part II (Cross-Pollination),” in the tradition of classical symphonies, is a bit of a breather—a piano-led track which feels comfortably familiar, if uninspired. To someone unaware of where one track ends and the next begins, “Part II” might pass entirely unnoticed. It does, however, serve as an excellent segue into “Part III (Redemption),” which starts slowly and builds achingly into an ode to new beginnings. Bellamy’s vocals have never felt quite so heartfelt as they do when “Part III” reaches its climax, and he pleads, “Why can’t we start it over again?”

As one, 12-minute unit, “Exogenesis Symphony” is not Muse’s best ever song, but with its unmatched scope, scale and caliber of composition, it might still be their magnum opus.

Though it ends on a high note, “The Resistance” is a mixed bag. It includes both a couple of Muse’s best songs, and a couple of their worst. As an album, it flows neither thematically nor musically. In fact, it sounds a little like Muse took their nine favorite songs from the recording session, threw them together in no particular order and called it a day. “Uprising,” “Undisclosed Desires” and “Exogenesis Symphony” alone might make a five-star EP—just don’t be surprised if you find yourself fast-forwarding through the rest.