I’ve defended Muse in front of a fair bit of criticism over the years. While sniffy critics have derided them for their populist, stuck-in-the-past approach, I insisted that their craft was accomplished, ambitious and never lost touch with enjoyability. And now they have unleashed “United States Of Eurasia” on us…
So! The first six rounds of Muse’s latest treasure hunt have been completed, and with this success for the notoriously fervent and geeky Muse fan-base comes the prize: the complete upload of “United States Of Eurasia”, the fourth track on their forthcoming fifth album, entitled The Resistance. A lot has been written on fan-sites with each successive upload, but I’ve mostly reserved judgement on it, preferring instead to wait for the whole song to emerge – after all, it’s a bit ridiculous to assess a song based on a 30-second clip.
Sadly, for all its massive-grin-inducing pomp and bombast, I’m finding it difficult to endorse “United States Of Eurasia”. The song is an almost four-minute long romp through the more unpalatable reaches of Queen’s œuvre, with the cavalcade of multi-tracked vocals, wailing guitars and thumping drums only slightly tempered by some tasteful East-European orchestral arrangements. It’s very low on subtlety, it’s very very BIG, and I’m still not sure whether I like it, or am simply smiling along with the undoubted audacity Muse are showing by creating such a throwback of a song.
The song begins with a light romantic piano accompaniment to Matt Bellamy’s vocals – at this point taking on an oddly gentle timbre – which is surprisingly reminiscent of the kind of supermarket dross conjured up by Coldplay. After a minute, soft, regular, percussion breaks into the mix, recalling memories of woeful 80s stadium ballads. Then, suddenly, at 1:17, a Brian May-style lead guitar line storms in and everything goes very Queen. Lest we get too comfortable, an actually pretty interesting orchestral arrangement is then unleashed, and before long the whole thing is rollicking along at a pace somewhere between “Knights Of Cydonia” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Predictably, it’s insanely catchy and hook-laden, and by the time the song explodes in a confetti-shower of multi-tracked vocal harmonies, screaming out “Eura-sia! Sia! Sia Sia!”, it’s bound to be pretty ingrained in your mind. Who knows? In a questionable indictment of the state of British music, it will probably be hailed as a novelty hit and roam around the higher reaches of the charts for weeks. I’d prefer to salute it as a relentless pastiche of an oft-trodden path, but whether or not I can actually approve it, I remain unsure.
Leaving Muse to their own devices, sans external producer, trapped in the basement studio of a villa on Lake Como, was never going to result in an album low on bombast – and only time will tell if the rest of The Resistance is similarly schizophrenic and cheesy. Reminiscing back to the days of Absolution, Muse were many things: pretentious, portentous, musically ambitious. But in “United States Of Eurasia” I see very little melodic accomplishment and a tendency for the band’s strengths to be overwrought into mere comedy, for all the ominous subtext of the song’s theme. That well-worn grin on my face is starting to hurt.