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10 years on: revisiting Muse's 'The Resistance'

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Muse reached peak popularity in 2006 with Black Holes and Revelations. This was followed by H.A.A.R.P. – a live album pieced together from their two-night run at Wembley stadium. However, The Resistance remains the band’s crowning achievement ten years on from its initial release.

What marks The Resistance out in Muse’s discography is its ambition and its thematic cohesion. That isn’t to say that it’s sonically homogenous. From the stompy call-to-arms of ‘Uprising’ to the fraught crooning of the title track, the R&B-inspired beats of ‘Undisclosed Desires’ and the piano-rock of ‘United States of Eurasia’, the record is never boring, if at times perplexing.

Image Credit: Julien Fabre

The Resistance was the first Muse album to be entirely self-produced - the band, having been actively involved in the production of their previous record, took full studio control here. The ambitious approach is evident even in the first track, ‘Uprising’, which at its core is quite a simple song but which builds and builds until the final chorus, where we have full harmonies, overdubbed falsetto and swirling synth arpeggios. The layering of drums is a technique brought forward onto ‘Resistance’, whose driving beat is cut with interjections from thundering toms.

Many of the songs from The Resistance proved difficult to replicate on stage, which was tricky for a band garnering a reputation for being one of the world’s best live acts. Morgan Nicholls, Muse’s touring member, would have had a tough time had he tried to reproduce the intricacies of a full orchestra. Frontman Matt Bellamy attempted some flamboyant solutions to this problem, including debuting a custom-built double-necked Manson guitar and a keytar for certain songs.

George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was a significant influence on the album, not just for its general themes of rebellion against a totalitarian regime but also in specific lyrics such as in the title track’s “kill your prayers for love and peace/ You’ll wake the Thought Police” and the bombastic ‘United States of Eurasia’. Sublime piano chords open this fourth song, which wears its Queen influence on its sleeve and crescendos to an eruption complete with Brian May guitar lines and the operatic bellowing of ‘Eura-SIA!’

To be sure, the album has its weaker moments. ‘Guiding Light’ is the one track that may justifiably be labelled derivative with its arena-rock clichés in the manner of U2. The love letter bore fruit, however, in the following year when The Edge, the band’s guitarist, joined Muse on stage at Glastonbury in 2010.

Muse’s 2009 album served as a prelude to what might be considered a career-low - their contribution to The Twilight Saga: Eclipse’s soundtrack, ‘Neutron Star Collision’. The song ‘I Belong to You’ prior to ‘Exogenesis’ features in the Twilight sequel New Moon. It’s corny yet creative; an oddity with piano glissandos and wah-wah bass, the two halves of the song are split by an interlude from Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Delilah delivered in a terrible French accent and it, of course, ends with a stonking bass clarinet solo.

The ‘Exogenesis Symphony’, which ends the album, is a genuinely moving triumph. ‘Overture’ opens the piece with its rising and falling string arpeggios and its menacing brass over which Bellamy’s falsetto vocals soar. ‘Cross Pollination’ starts with furious chromatic passages on piano, giving way to Romantic cascading keys and luscious orchestral accompaniment with lyrical themes of rescuing humanity in a desperate attempt to colonise space. The final part ‘Redemption’ holds a simple beauty in its vulnerably exposed melody which builds to gigantic yet dignified proportions and gives voice to a tragic hopefulness that perhaps, this time, humanity will not be doomed to self-destruction.

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