The most unlikely of album releases

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I’ll be honest with you. I don’t really know how to write this, how long it’s going to be or how much of it will make sense. I know what I want to say but I don’t know how to say it without sounding too naïve, childish, young. It’s difficult because I’m not sure how I feel about it myself and as has been pointed out to me, I didn’t go through it so can’t have that strong emotions regarding it. I can’t imagine how the direct participants in it felt. I can’t begin to imagine the lows they felt, the feeling that their world had been taken from underneath them and turned upside down, that their dreams had been cancelled, that all their hard work over many years was all for nothing. I can’t imagine being huge names in music one day, then being nobodies the next.

Maybe the best place to start would be with the facts. There was a band, hailing from Pontypridd in Wales (funnily enough, the same town as Tom Jones) who called themselves Lostprophets. They were an alternative metal band, heavier and darker than most stuff I liked but, in my experience, not heavy or dark enough to be considered a band that anyone above the age of 15 should like. Not something I agree with, but a view held by many. Anyway, enough of that, they released 5 successful albums and were creating a legacy for themselves in music and Wales. It all ended when, on the 19th December 2012, their lead singer, Ian Watkins, was arrested for child sex offences.

I had been a Lostprophets fan for quite a while, ever since A Town Called Hypocrisy – so all the way through 3 albums, and I had bought their previous 2 as well. At the time, and indeed for quite a while afterwards, they were my second most played band on last.fm. I had their poster on my wall back home. It was fair to say that they were one of my favourite bands. On the 8th November, so about a month before the allegations emerged, I saw them live at Manchester Apollo and quite frankly, I was blown away by how good they were. It had reignited my love for them. They only played 6 more gigs as a band.

For most people, Lp weren’t a 6-piece band – they were a one man one. If anyone could name any of them it would, even before Dec 2012, have been Ian Watkins. The other 5 were fairly anonymous, living in the shadow of a front man who was very good at being one. Very few people would know who Lee Gaze, Stuart Richardson, Mike Lewis, Jamie Oliver and Luke Johnson are, let alone recognise them in a promotional picture. It was immensely unfair on all of them, who all had more talent than Watkins had anyway. If there is one thing I remember from the gig I went to, it was being seriously impressed by guitarist Gaze’s skill.

Most people wouldn’t know that they were on the verge of splitting up anyway, that Watkins had become impossible to work with and at least one member, Gaze, has confirmed that he found the music they were making inappropriate for 30-odd year olds. Gaze and Richardson refuse to listen to the music they made together, in fact Richardson has smashed their platinum disc received for Liberation Transmission. All of the members have children; all of them would have felt the betrayal and deception as parents let alone band-mates, even friends. All of them refuse to be seen as victims, they all say the real victims are the families involved with the actual abuse and they are spot on there.

For almost a year we heard nothing, before they confirmed that Lostprophets were officially over as a band (it didn’t really come as a shock!). I follow them all on twitter as they apparently went their separate ways. Gaze focused on his love for coffee, Oliver decided to print some of his paintings (interesting side note: Jamie only came into the band because they couldn’t afford to take an extra member on tour in their early days yet wanted a photographer so he learnt the turntables) and Lewis became the manager of some smaller bands in America. Then, in April 2014, rumours began to grow that the band were back in the studio.

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No Devotion, made up of Lostprophets’ 5 members as well as former Thursday lead singer Geoff Rickly, debuted their first single on the 1st July. It was nothing like the Lp members had done before, being more mainstream rock and less like it was made for teenagers. There was a sigh of relief amongst the fan base, who had been through hell for almost two years, here we were finally re-embracing 5 musicians who had done nothing wrong except choose their friends badly yet were being tainted by association. It was yesterday, quite a while after Stay’s release, that their debut album, Permanence, was released.

Here’s the thing. Technically, I’m going to class this as a review yet I’m not going to review a single track. The reason? I will never judge Permanence on whether I find the music good or not, it’s worth more than that. It’s the album that I, the whole of the fan base, the whole of the music industry, never thought would be made. I can’t listen to Lostprophets now, every now and then I try again but find it too difficult, but at least I have some music, more than that a record, which I can listen to made by the good guys of Lp, the men worth being so in love with Lostprophets in my teenage years.

If No Devotion release nothing else in their career, at least the five of them (Johnson has since left) will always have their contributions to this record. It won’t be as commercially successful as the stuff they did before but it was unquestionably mean infinitely more to them personally. They sunk to the bottom but kept their heads up and managed to rise again. There is no question that Ian Watkins is a horrible human being that deserves to rot in jail. He tainted all of their names; he made the music they had made for years worthless. He ruined many lives, not just these 5 men but all the families who he abused. While I hope they have turned their lives around, this record proves that the members of No Devotion have.

Reliving Records: Muse’s The Resistance

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Muse’s fifth studio album, The Resistance, is 6 years old today. Widely regarded by Muse fans as part one of the two-part black sheep of their album collection, in my opinion it is grossly underestimated and harshly treated. I don’t think it’s Muse’s best work however it’s far from being their worst. This album spawned a top 10 single, saw Muse break away from their comfort zone and has been classified 2xPlatinium in this country.

Personally, this was the first Muse album I bought on the day it was released. I came late to the Muse hype, finding them after hearing Supermassive Black Hole a few weeks after it was released (although, as it turns out, I had already heard Time Is Running Out – I just didn’t know it was them) and thus The Resistance was the first album they released with me as a fan. After college, I rushed into town to buy the deluxe edition, containing the making of DVD. I spent the whole night listening to it.

I used to tweet a lot. A hell of a lot, and unfortunately for me there is an app, which sends me daily reminders of how embarrassing they were. Timehop scours your social networks and tells you what you posted on this day 1,2,3,4,5,6 etc years ago. It is worth downloading for free if you want a laugh. It turns out that 6 years ago, I wrote a very embarrassing track-by-track review of The Resistance, based on my first listens. The question is, how have my opinions changed in 6 years?

One thing I noticed from re-reading the reviews was how overwhelmingly positive I was about the album. Every track got an 8, 9 or 10 out of 10, which does seem a bit ridiculous, but is arguably how I feel about every Muse album as soon as I get it. In fact, there’s a more general point there – I imagine I feel more strongly about every album I buy in the weeks after I’ve bought it than 6 years later. So, I started this review thinking the scores would be considerably lower, and they probably will be, however listening to The Resistance again has reminded me just how much I love it.

The main thing I love about Muse is how they don’t take themselves too seriously; a lot of what they do is tongue-in-cheek or too overblown to be genuine. They write about environmental destruction, nuclear war, space invaders or drone warfare and aren’t afraid to make grand assertions. They do it without being serious and on The Resistance; this was in evidence in spades. Right from the Queen references in United States of Eurasia, the song about psychological manipulation conducted by the CIA, the French opera inspired number up until the finish with a 3-part symphony.

Having said I love that, it’s also good when Muse strip down. The highlights of most of their albums end up being the ballads, songs that you don’t associate with them which end up being stadium-filling cracker jacks of songs. The Resistance has one of my favourites of the lot, which is an unbelievably unpopular opinion in the eyes of most Muse fans.

The Resistance isn’t perfect though; it has more than a few flaws. The ending of the album is a lot weaker than the start for one, and for another the production is too overdone. The beauty of the early Muse albums is you can undoubtedly hear Matt breathing throughout pages, making the music more like a live experience than most albums. This is still evident on The Resistance however it has been toned down – which is no surprise really given that by this point they were already the biggest band in Britain.

Overall, The Resistance is a good album. It was the start of Muse’s experimental period, although the majority of songs are played on their bog standard instruments – thereby making it a transitional album and it works well in that regard. The usual Muse elements are there, high difficulty of songs, many influences of sounds, combined with newer directions and a higher quality of song writing than usual. It was, in my opinion, the album that cemented their place at the top of the hierarchy of British rock music.

Let’s go through this track-by-track, with the help of my reviews from 6 years ago. They are unbelievably embarrassing – so I’m not quite sure why I am plastering them on the Internet again! Unfortunately, my reviewing skills haven’t got much better and still rely on horrendously overused descriptive words.

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Uprising:

What I said then: Really good pop song to start with. My mum asked to listen to it yesterday, even asked for it to be the new Doctor Who theme tune! Nuff Said 😀 (8/10)

What I say now: The thing about my mum was important because she never asks to listen to Muse! That aside, I wasn’t wrong about it being a really good song to start with. Based around the Doctor Who theme tune, set to the backdrop of a revolution, here is a song to chant to, to rock to and to belt out. Catchy and meaningful, this is Muse at the peak of their powers.

Rating: 9/10

Resistance:

What I said then: Omg. Love it. So Catchy. Been singing it all day 🙂 (8)

What I say now: Ok, here is my first grievance with The Resistance. Yes, it’s catchy (and yes, I was an annoying 16 year old) but it’s been overplayed by Muse, is a bit too long and I only really listen to it when I feel in the mood to. Probably the Muse song I’ve skipped the most. However, it’s still better than what most bands make and that pre-chorus is wonderful.

Rating: 6/10

Undisclosed Desires:

What I said then: Love the RnB opening and a perfect show of how amazing Muse actually are 😀 (8)

What I say now: I don’t get the hate for UD. It’s a valiant attempt at a genre where Muse aren’t comfortable yet it manages to fit in with the rest of their back catalogue. There are still times, 6 years later, where nothing fits the mood like UD. It’s no SMBH, MotP, KoC, SD or CE (¹) but it’s a good song in it’s own right. The beat is catchy and the chorus has sing-a-long potential.

Rating: 8/10

United States of Eurasia (+Collateral Damage):

What I said then: Muse doing something that sounded like Queen the first time and now just sounds truly amazing. 3rd favourite song. (9)

What I say now: A Queen inspired, Chopin imitating blast of a number. The falsetto part was really where Matt channelled Freddie Mercury and did it in a way that led Brian May to praise it. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I dare you to listen to this song and not chant “Eura-sia! Sia! Sia! Sia!” As a song, it just works, and the altered Chopin piano piece at the end rounds of a beautiful piece. One of my favourite live songs, although admittedly, I have seen it enough now and would like to hear other piano songs like Ruled By Secrecy or Space Dementia.

Rating: 9/10

Guiding Light:

What I said then: So beautiful. The beautiful songs on the albums (Unintended, Citizen Erased (nb, presumably 16 year old me meant the quiet bits!), Blackout and Invincible) are matched amazingly by this. 2nd favourite song (9)

What I say now: All right, time to don my tin hat and get ready for abuse. Guiding Light has become not only my favourite song from The Resistance but one of my favourite songs of all time. And, truth be told, I think only Matt Bellamy agrees with me on that. The hate it received when they played it at the Etihad stadium was disappointing, and I was the only one around who was happy! I think it’s beautiful, I think it’s powerful and I think it’s a hidden gem in amongst all the riffs, chants and falsettos this album is now famous for.

Rating: 10/10

Unnatural Selection:

What I said then: The riff at the end sums Muse up. Unpredictable and amazing (8)

What I say now: Not really that unpredictable a riff, but still a monster of one that was designed for stadiums. The perfect closing song on their arena tour, it could realistically fit anywhere within the set list around the time it was written. But now, I don’t know – I certainly am in no hurry to see it live again. Don’t get me wrong, I love shouting “I WANT THE TRUTH”, it’s just that Muse have so many better songs in their arsenal and it now gets lost a bit.

Rating: 5/10

MK Ultra:

What I said then: I cannot wait to see this live. Actually can’t. My favourite song from this album. Potential to be my favourite song ever. (10)

What I say now: Well I never got to see it live, and it isn’t my favourite song of all time but it is still one of the highlights here. Hey, the 7th song on Muse albums are usually great (Unintended, Micro Cuts, Assassin, Animals) and this is no exception. Different to what Muse usually do, a bit quicker, a bit syncopated in the breakdown and hence why it was difficult to play live. It reached perfection with the line “we are losing control”. Well worth a listen, especially if you haven’t heard it before.

Rating: 9/10

I Belong To You (+Mon Cœur S’ouvre à Ta Voix):

What I said then: Probably everyone will think this is the weak link of the album. I disagree. This sounds like 70’s pop with Matt’s voice. And the French. Wowwww. What more could you want in life? Well MK Ultra maybe… (8)

What I say now: Where to start with that two tweet review? Firstly, it is almost certainly the weak point of the album. Secondly, the French isn’t that great (although the clarinet solo afterwards definitely is) and thirdly, you can want a lot more in life! Hey, it’s a good effort at something different and certainly isn’t a poor song – it has many redeeming qualities (being upbeat and slightly more listenable than the heavy stuff for one) but it was remixed and used in a Twilight movie. As my 16-year-old self would say, nuff said.

Rating: 5/10

Exogenesis Symphony:

What I said then: The perfect end to an almost perfect album. No other band would dare to right (nb, presumably I meant write) this as no other band could pull this off. Had my doubts about this at first but no more. It is simply outstanding. (9)

What I say now: Apart from the dreadful mix-up of homophones in the middle, I can’t disagree with anything I said. Exogenesis is really where Muse separate themselves from modern rock bands. Not afraid to drop classical influences into their music, they wrote a whole 3-piece symphony. Split into 3 parts on the album, they fit seamlessly as one and, as they’ve proved at live gigs, work when apart as well.

Rating: 8/10

Average rating: 7.5/10 (Excellent)

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Overall, I think it’s clear that you overrate (or underrate) albums when they first come out. First listens always bring strong emotions, which lessen out over time (essentially, that’s why hits aren’t always classics and why some albums are growers). Overall, The Resistance has stayed remarkably consistent in my mind. I still rate the same songs I did then, I still listen to all. I think I recognise that it isn’t Muse’s best work in terms of the music, however it has a special place in my heart thanks to the fact I rushed out to buy it (the first in it’s kind in that regard for Muse albums).

I know that what I like and dislike from this album is widely seen as controversial in the Muse fan-base, for example UD and GL will never be favourites whereas I believe US and Resistance are liked. However, isn’t that what makes music worthwhile? That we can all hear the same notes, chords and arrangements yet form different favourites in our minds. Some songs just resonate with us, and others with other people and that’s why music continues to flourish.

Happy Birthday The Resistance, you underappreciated gem.

 

¹ Key:

  •  SMBH = Supermassive Black Hole
  • MotP = Map of The Problematique
  • KoC = Knights of Cydonia
  • CE = Citizen Erased
  • SD = Space Dementia