Let’s face facts for a second: Muse are not a cool band anymore. Sure, the Devon trio still fill arenas all over the UK, but how many of the tens of thousands crammed inside are there to hear songs that were written after 2009? It’s megahits like ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ and ‘Uprising’ that the people want, with their fuzz riffs and Matt Bellamy howls proving so powerful that plenty can overlook their creators’ shoddy 2010s.
The last decade saw Muse weather both highs (the eclectic 2nd Law) and lows (the pseudo-philosophical prog of Drones). Quite neatly, ninth album Will of the People condenses the experience of being a Muse fan post-2012 into one album. Its 38 minutes both soar and crash with spectacular pomp.
Musically, Will of the People flies highest when it’s at its heaviest. In stark contrast to 2018’s Simulation Theory and its ’80s synthwave, this is an album unafraid to embrace hard rock and heavy metal. The result is some of the tautest songs Muse have supplied in some time.
‘Kill or Be Killed’ is easily the best entry here, filling the gaps between Bellamy’s signature melodic cries with chugging riffs. The bridge – where the frontman’s fingers crawl over the far end of a down-tuned guitar’s fretboard – hammers enough to belong on a Machine Head album. It’s nonstop excitement.
Lead single ‘Won’t Stand Down’ is similarly vital. The verses’ all-consuming electronic blasts quickly and seamlessly transition into the guitar attack of the chorus. It’s a testament to Bellamy’s underrated prowess as a player that he can lay down such a visceral and technical riff, yet still wail one of his finest choruses to date. “Won’t stand down, I’m growing stronger! / Won’t stand down, I’m owned no longer!” he declares with the kind of grit and empowering melodiousness that made Black Holes and Revelations the masterstroke that they were.
Sadly, Will of the People refuses to go all-out with that excitement, and the ideas it uses to diversify itself are sometimes baffling. ‘Liberation’ is a mess of a song, ripping off the grandeur of Queen with its front-and-centre keyboard-tickling and a switch to falsetto vocals. It’s a tangent that’s not only distractingly derivative to anyone who’s even remotely familiar with one of the biggest rock bands ever, but also devoid of grit. Bellamy’s at his best with his distorted rant-singing, and this isn’t an expansion that works in his favour.
The title track similarly pulls from obvious sources, its opening refrain sounding identical to ‘The Beautiful People’ by the now-problematic Marilyn Manson. At least the following ‘Compliance’ does electro-rock right, fully committing to its cybernetic soundscape with persistent synth notes and vocals thrust through a robotic filter. Also, that call-and-answer chorus is the most splendid of earworms.
Lyrically, Will of the People goes down the avenue of being wisely vague. Muse have been so high-profile for so long that Matt Bellamy’s weird politics – he was famously a “9/11 truther” for years – are almost as well-known as their biggest hits. So it’s a mercy that this is a collection of motivational calls for revolution that don’t specify who we’re rebelling against or why. “Give us euphoria! / It’s been all work and no play, give us euphoria!” Bellamy belts out during ‘Euphoria’, in a plea for respite that can just as easily be lobbed at the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom or your dickhead of a boss.
‘We Are Fucking Fucked’ ends the album on a downer note, not only in its obvious nihilistic outlook on humanity’s trajectory, but also in its decision to express that in the same way a fifteen-year-old’s diary would. It’s an infantile conclusion – although it’s strong musically: a jangling rocker that explodes into an arena-ready hook after a barrage of lightspeed drumming. As a hodgepodge of good and bad, it ends Will of the People on an apt note.
There is a lot to love about Muse’s ninth full-length, and it’s a guarantee that a good amount of its songs will get those arenas they’re filling up roaring in unified delight. However, for every triumphant high there’s a head-scratching misstep. Muse continue to be a mixed bag, but if they can zero in on the greatest moments they’ve created here and double down, there’s still hope for a return to past glories.