Muse frontman Matt Bellamy recently revealed that the Devonshire trio have an out-and-out prog album stirring deep in their souls. While ninth studio album Will Of The People isn’t that, it’s hardly short on the kind of flamboyant outlandishness that has won many a progger’s heart; but it’s a tale of two halves. The record’s concept is set in a fictional metaverse on a planet ruled by an authoritarian state, itself ran by an algorithm that prints a currency to control its people, which Bellamy insists also doesn’t exist. One day, its protagonist, an ordinary citizen living an ordinary life, decides enough is enough. Of course, the crux of the matter is anything but fictitious. Will Of The People is a thinly-veiled commentary on corrupt governments the world over, but with extra theatre.
In that respect, just like its opening gambits, this is quintessential Muse. Will Of The People is a gang vocal-driven, swaggering stadium rock song; Liberation the amalgamation of Bellamy’s love for Tchaikovksy and Queen’s eccentricities while Compliance is a fist-pumping, albeit safe, rebellion anthem. As the album, and indeed the story, progresses however, Muse get increasingly weirder and more daring and that’s where Will Of The People’s magic heartily lies. You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween is a suitably spooky 80s synth-groove monster. Its chorus is as camp as it is creepy, but ultimately it’s irresistibly tongue-in-cheek fun. Iced, too, with plenty of flashy Van-Halen-meets-Brian-May lead guitar and ghostly pipe organ, it’s wonderfully bizarre without abandoning their accessible sensibilities.
While the live show-tailored lead single Won’t Stand Down was billed as ‘metal Muse’, it pales in comparison to the proto-prog metal of Kill Or Be Killed, which unites Rage Against The Machine riffage with sky-scraping, 00s-era Dream Theater. It’s executed with a real freedom, contradicting much of the record’s more radio-friendly first half. That trend continues on the romantic, Marillion-esque Verona, which is all bubbling synth lines and lustful lyrics. Yet as it builds, it’s overlaid with Stranger Things-style keyboards and glistening U2-esque lead guitars that add extra colours and flavours, the song unfurling like a proper prog song should. Euphoria adds hope to the narrative on a track, which sounds like an Absolution B-side.
Perhaps, as the closing The-Cramps-meets-Queens Of The Stone Age We Are Fucking Fucked proves, it’s a little scattergun stylistically. Still, there’s a sense of safety that stands out on the record to appease those looking for pop, prog or metal from its contents, and that balancing act is no mean feat.
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