Almost by its very nature, Muse's music inspires drastically different reactions. Even the critical opinion seems to be quite divided , and though most everyone acknowledges the same strengths and weaknesses, how much you enjoy it seems to depend on which attributes of their music you choose to focus your attention. Or maybe, at least recently, it really just boils down to whether or not you love stadium-sized rock 'n' roll that pays homage to classic 80s rock. Because that's what The Resistance is at heart - no more, no less really - a collection of overblown and over-dramatic rock songs that reference everyone from Blondie to Queen, stuffed with anthematic vocals, epic guitars and thunderous drums. The transformation that began with 2006's Black Holes and Revelations continues with their new record, taking Muse into territory quite distant from their Radiohead-emulating origins in 1999.
Personally, I thought Black Holes and Revelations was easily the band's most accomplished work. That it was grandiose to the point of being silly and more than a little pretentious is true, but it's also beside the point. The music was just too good to ignore, with Matthew Bellamy's soaring voice and angst-ridden lyrics delivered over some superb guitar, bass, and drum work. And really, the formula for The Resistance is about the same, though it's got a decidedly more 'rock opera' feel to it this time around. Bellamy is still paranoid, singing about the people's fight and eventual triumph over 'they' (the man, the government, the greedy, the selfish, etc.), who seem intent on keeping him and everyone else hopeless, loveless and downtrodden. His lyrics feel trite at times, more so here than before, but usually he's convincing (or maybe just convinced) enough to get away with it.
The remaining band members stay sharp on bass and drums, but they also compete much of the time with other digital and organic instrumental flourishes that remained mostly absent even from the band's last record. "Undisclosed Desires" floats over a hip-hop beat and emotive string arrangements while "United States of Eurasia" rips off Queen so completely (one of several incidents) you might actually think Brian May was there to provide guitar and backing vocals. It's here that the music begins to feel a little disingenuous - Muse is certainly talented enough to pull it off, and it's mostly fun and occasionally thrilling - but the whole experience feels somewhat tired and borrowed when you'd think Muse should be able to come up with their own ideas by now. When they stick to the basics ("Unnatural Selection," for example) the results are stronger in their simplicity.
The three-song closing suite "Exogenesis," with a string-heavy, symphonic style, takes things in another direction entirely. It doesn't work completely - but it's at least interesting and genuinely beautiful at times. It's yet another disparate element in an obviously ambitious but somewhat confused album that I'll admit I enjoy but only when I'm in certain moods. At it's best, though, The Resistance provides the same high-adrenaline hooks and over-the-top choruses that are difficult to resist. Next time around Muse will likely have to come up with something a bit more convincing to keep our attention, but The Resistance works well enough to satisfy.