Muse – Will Of The People
Will Of The People takes the record as the site’s new lowest rated album, and it’s a record that I dearly hope isn’t broken any time soon. The rare times you will find a negative review on this site they will generally come from a place of love, of knowing an act can do better and wanting them to realise their full potential. This isn’t Pitchfork, I don’t delight in tearing bands to pieces. Why bother wasting my time and energy listening to and writing about a terrible album, when I’m already struggling to find the time to cover the overwhelming deluge of new music releasing every week? There’s plenty of music to choose from, you’re not forced to listen to terrible albums, generally you can just ignore them and let you life be better for it. This album however is the rare exception. An album whose mere existence makes the world a slightly worse place to be, and to sit idly by and not acknowledge that fact just didn’t sit right with me.
Lyrics have always been a sticking point for Muse. Their political themes somehow managing to be both as subtle as a sledgehammer while also being almost aggressively vague. A constant vocal tirade against a nebulous “Them” and the ills they inflict upon the world, without ever pinning down who “they” are or what heinous crimes they’ve committed. Essentially boiling down simply to “fuck the government, no one tells me what to do!”. (In fact, the new record’s closing track ‘We Are Fucking Fucked’ is pretty indicative of their usual level of subtlety and nuance).
The issue is, the world has become a very different place since Muse last released an album. We’ve seen a global pandemic bring the world to its knees, with deranged anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers frustrating calls for common sense and common courtesy at every turn and endangering those around them. We saw much the same calibre of misguided, brainwashed wazzocks attempt an armed insurrection in the States to try and overturn a democratic election to keep a tin-pot dictator in power.
As soon as Muse revealed details about their new album, with tracks titled things like ‘Will Of The People’ and ‘Compliance’, my reaction like most rational people was “bloody hell, read the room!”. The final product is worse than expected however, trading their usual play-both-sides vagaries for overt dog whistles. Tracks like ‘Compliance’ and ‘Liberation’ sound like something straight out of the mouthpiece of a MAGA cultist, barely managing not to say anything too overt, but by the time Muse hit the album’s midpoint all semblance of decency and tact has faded. ‘Ghosts (How Can I Move On)’ name-drops far-right conspiracy theories like “the great reset”, while ‘Verona’ is an anti-masker’s wet dream with lines like “Can we kiss, contagion on our lips? Well, I don’t care, We can touch and feel forbidden bliss, They can’t stop us now…“. They’ve hopped off the fence only to land firmly on the wrong side of it.
Oh, but hang on, here’s a fun little moment of respite: ‘You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween’. A nice quirky holiday song complete with spooky organ arrangement, no way they can fuck that up, right? That is until yet again the lyrics ruin the experience. Turns out it tries to be a song about domestic abuse and yet succeeds only in being an incredibly insensitive take which trivialises the whole affair.
Even if I give Muse the benefit of the doubt and say the album doesn’t intentionally fan the flames of deluded and dangerous conspiracy theories (which is a stretch given Bellamy’s pointed choice of language), the album is still crass and bumbling at best. Will Of The People is about as tone-deaf as World Of Tanks putting up a billboard for their game in Tiananmen Square. The songs that manage not to drop their foot in it are still tainted by association, and frankly even at their best would still just be filler tracks on any other Muse album. I urge you to listen to something else, anything else, great or terrible, rather than give this album time of day. However, let it be said that even on my most critical review, I can still find a moment to celebrate the positives. So let me end with the one thing Will Of The People gets right: at least it’s short.