Muse: The Resistance

Muse has always been careful to balance their lyrical paranoia with a vast arsenal of sonic weaponry, turning the negativity of songs like “Map of the Problematique” and “Stockholm Syndrome” into lighter-waving anthems for the dance floor or the mosh pit. They came close to tipping the balance on 2006’s Black Holes and Revelations – surprise, singer and lyricist Matthew Bellamy was angry about the Iraq War – but fortunately for them they had cooked up their best batch of songs to go with those anti-war tirades and ‘die with your boots on’ battle cries. The album became the band’s first US Top Ten hit and vaulted the British trio into the rock’s upper echelon. If you need more proof of the band’s growing status among rock aficionados, look no further than the inclusion of Bellamy as an unlockable guitarist in “Guitar Hero 5.”

After a hellacious tour schedule – which produced the stopgap live album H.A.A.R.P. – the band finally settled down long enough to enter the studio and prepare for the follow-up album. It was here that they decided to do what no prog band should ever be allowed to do: produce the album themselves. Any band as musically gifted as Muse needs an outside voice of reason, someone to rein them in when they’re tempted to go even more over the top than they already go. More importantly, the band could have used someone to tell them that they’re repeating themselves far too frequently. Granted, the main musical thrust behind The Resistance may be unique in that this album is more symphonic than their previous efforts, but several of these songs echo the band’s earlier work, sometimes lazily so.

Take leadoff track and first single “Uprising,” for example. This is “Knights of Cydonia” crossed with the original theme for “Doctor Who,” with its chorus lines “They will not control us, we will be victorious” a near-identical photocopy of “You and I must fight for our rights, you and I must fight to survive.” Even the keyboard riff that appears in the “Cydonia” vocal break is repeated here. “Guiding Light,” meanwhile is “Invincible” – which itself stole giant chunks of Keane’s “Everybody’s Changing” – crossed with Ultravox’s “Vienna,” and the second section in the three-part “Exogenesis” symphony, “Cross Pollination,” begins with a rehash of Bellamy’s piano break from the Absolution track “Butterflies and Hurricanes.” This isn’t the first time the band was guilty of borrowing an idea from an earlier song, but it is the first time they’ve been so obvious about it.

The album’s best moments are when the band ventures the farthest outside of their comfort zone. “Undisclosed Desires” features pizzicato strings and equally plucky bass work from Chris Wolstenholme, and is a nice slice of mid-tempo pop complete with simple, machine-like drum work from Dominic Howard. The biggest surprise, though, is “I Belong To You (+Mon Coeur S’ouvre A Ta Voix),” a bouncy, piano-driven number that will have Rufus Wainwright seething with jealousy. As lovely as that song is, though, did it really need a two-and-a-half-minute interlude? This is where the presence of former producer Rich Costey, or anyone for that matter, would have come in handy; Muse loses focus far too often, indulging in whatever musical detour presents itself. The none-more-Queen “United States of Eurasia” suffers from this as well, ending a Middle Eastern-tinged stomper with a lilting, two-minute piano solo. It’s pretty, but does it belong?

The Resistance has some undeniably beautiful moments – “Exogenesis: Symphony Part I – The Overture,” for one, is heartbreaking – but is in dire need of some nips and tucks. The decision to put the guitars away in favor of strings and keys is to be commended in today’s “Rock Band” world (you heard it here first: expect a lot of bands to begin overplaying in order to guarantee inclusion in future installments of “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero”), but a little streamlining would have done a world of good. (Warner Bros. 2009)

Muse MySpace page