Rocktober Day 26: Muse - The Resistance


Words: Roddy from the Northern Territories

Kids, this next installment of Rocktober comes with a huge caveat, which you can skip altogether, but the story must be known: THE RESISTANCE is the album that made me become the very thing I had been resisting: a critic!

Now, now, crit-ophiles: Lay to rest your Pitchforks and angry mob torches. Those who know me well probably know I have a complex and contentious relationship with music reviews in particular and criticism in general. I mean, really: Who deemed Pitchfork or anyone for that matter our cultural arbiters? Granted, as my savvier friends have noted over time: Something better than album sales has to be there to discern between the artistic merits of the Radioheads vs the Nickelbacks of the world. And as a full-on lib arts grad (English, no less), I should know that to let a body of art go unanalyzed and undissected would be a laziness akin to blasphemy (until one learns I was on the creative writing, not the lit crit, path, at which point it all makes perfect sense).

But I digress! The bottom line is that there’s something absolutely terrifying, sacred and cathartic about earnestly taking a risk and bearing one’s creative soul. And it rips me to god@#$ shreds when doing so becomes an open invitation for some pompous @$hole’s snark platform. To criticize is far too easy, and as a culture, we’ve become so hard to impress and so quick to judge and dismissively tear down. “WOW ME” says the snob. “F*#$ YOU” says the kid with the guitar. And that’s exactly how it should be, damn it.

Granted, to share an off-the-cuff thought with a friend or two is fine and natural -- and that’s what I view this site as -- and again, art isn’t immune to critique, after all – we the people are busy and rely on those we trust, and we can read the reviewers we like and trust and simply ignore the rest -- but nevertheless, I fear that to celebrate critique so highly, and/or turn it into a calling, would likely strip both music and writing of the very joys that drew me to each, in the meantime possibly compromising a principle or two. Besides, I have friends already much better than me at this sort of thing who are already getting published in high-profile outlets, so I’d always thought I’d keep my own thoughts to a narrow distribution list (much narrower than this -- oops) while practicing my own chops, in the hopes that maybe I can be on the Other side of the harsh reviewer’s wicked pen some day.

BUT ALAS. I must confess, I’ve come around to the Dark Side. In fact, it was a kind and eloquent critic friend who once shared his obscenely amazing Press “+1” ticket with me, who in his headcold-addled, miserable, pummeled-by-garish-tween-angst-rock state ever-so-gently and without an ounce of force lifted the BLINDED BY ZOMG METAL veil from my eyes and revealed “The Muse” (as Bono put it)’s fermented curds for what they were: Oh So Cheesy Sci-Fi Spaceboner Poppin’ Out Yr Sequined Pants, lulz!   

Now I must admit, while at the risk of sounding like That Guy: I’ve loved MUSE since Showbiz back in ’00 – yup, probably well before you hated them. And back then, when alternative was breathing its dying breaths, that was one hell of an album, full of genuine force, drama and heartache, and they wore it all on their sleeves, as I do my sentimental attachments to it. None of this demure indie preciousness – no way, these dudes were balls to the wall, knew how to write and shred, and clearly believed in the Go Big or Go Home mantra. In fact, their remarkable musicianship, kickass sound, mind-bending themes and stellar live shows impressed me throughout my less-discerning 20s and continue to appeal on a kneejerk ZOMG TEH RAWK! Level, despite any and all cheese since adopted, ever more with each album. These dudes utterly destroyed Wembley without breaking a sweat, and like him or not, little Matthew Bellamy can really truly SING… AND play piano like Chopin…  AND shred guitar riffs like sci-fi Metallica on steroids, often all at the same time, all while making it look easy. Move over, Getty Lee. And don’t get me started on their rhythm section: Their almost mockably cool, Ari-Gold lookalike bassist, Christopher Wolstenholme, with whom I could only dream of keeping up, used to play drums. DRUMS, for eff’s sake!!  And he’s now one of the more influential bassists out there in rock today. And tiny Dominic Howard, while Hobbit-looking indeed, punishes his drums summarily, nailing BIG prog-rock patterns with metronomic precision. Anyway, how in the hell do three tiny elfin guys make so much f*#$ing EPIC RAWK NOIZE???  Finally, I truly hold a special place in my heart for bands like Muse and Radiohead (who should otherwise not be compared to one another unless the listener is deaf and dumb) – bands that have been together since their teens, the same tight-knit group of guys, without even one, much less 800, replacements and rotating members, like some other beloved “bands” out there (ahem, Foo Fighters, ahem).  


Rock Break!!!

Point being, with earlier albums, the seeds of MUSE’s current angle were there, but they hadn’t quite developed, much less run right off the edge of the intergalactic cliff. But of course now, they’re a household name. They’ve amassed the Twilight crowd’s awe and affection, as well as a ringing Glen Beck endorsement! – seriously??  Seriously! – granted, neither of which they were expecting, I’m sure, but both of which can’t help but be a hit to the credibility of their orchestrated “uprising.” That’s not to say this album doesn’t Bring It. It does, and that’s why it’s being featured here today. But if you asked me whether or not MUSE has jumped the shark, I wouldn’t flinch for a millisecond. And that makes me a sad hobbit-lover indeed.

To be fair, I’m not expecting a 10-point plan for global reform or anything – that’s not music’s primary job in my view (hear that, Church of Bono?) – but when their main audience appeal shifts from socially conscious adults to the Tweens Rebelling Against Parents (TRAP!) set, you’re bound to lose some of your serious-social-justice-movement/ trenchant-political-commentary swagger. And I think to remedy that, MUSE either has to become far more tongue-in-cheek about their bag o’ tricks and acknowledge this element, or else enjoy it while it lasts but immediately hang up the space boots come next album and try something completely different. Fine line between good drama and farce… and sadly, this one is so clean, so polished, and so efficient that it sounds like it could grease the slippery slopes of any poorly designed, easily co-opted, well-meaning, rebel-without-a-clue revolution. Despite so much glam-poppy goodness, there is so very little raw grit with which to actually resist.

So in sum, in the words I once spoke to my chunkiest-glasses-wearing friends from the planet of Zebulon as I skipped band practice in favor of catching MUSE’s The Resistance tour show:

Thanks to tonight's impending glambastic orgy of relentless, laser-laden, sci-fi-futuRIFFic, dystopia-shredding, unapologetic, un-ironic grandiosity -- courtesy of the universe's preeminent interstellar UK power trio, MUSE -- this week your eardrums are all spared. Next week, however, you should only be so lucky, as no starkly exposed soul shall be safe out from underneath the shadow of this epically eclipsing infinitely powerful prog-metal starship of the rockpocalypse! 


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