Album Review: Muse ‘The 2nd Law’

– The 2nd Law
Genre: Rock/Experimental
Label: Helium 3

Muse, if really in need of an introduction these days, are the experimental and flamboyant rock trio from the seaside town Teignmouth in Devon. Headed by guitarist, pianist, vocalist and general mad musician Matt Bellamy, bassist and backing vocalist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dom Howard. Throughout their time together, they’ve undoubtedly changed since their beginnings as an intricate progressive rock band to an eccentric pop-rock sensation, and “The 2nd Law” is their sixth studio album, which sees them taking their extravagant style to a whole new level.

Basically, if you haven’t heard of Muse via radio, TV or through a friend in general, then you’ve probably been hiding under Ayers Rock for the past 18 years. While Matt Bellamy is perhaps known as one of the most frantic and unpredictable frontmen and songwriters in rock over recent years, to say that he pushes the limits of being outright bizarre on this album just be a bit of an understatement. Even though the previous two albums, The “Resistance” (2009) and “Black Holes And Revelations” (2006), have been undeniably ambitious, this release outright takes the cake.

The evidence hits you as soon as Supremacy starts, the track features very dramatic and sleazy guitars backed by orchestral symphonies which just screams and begs to be used for a James Bond film’s opening theme. It’s just completely indulgent in its grandiose pompousness and lack of subtlety disregards any chance of taking the song deeply or seriously. Then the single Madness follows, with low throbbing electronics to support the teasing vocal delivery, especially with the “muh-muh-muh-mah-mah-mah”, like a slow song played in a sexually intense nightclub.

Third track Panic Station becomes another track that’s just  a cup of cold water to the face, by being a funk track. Yes, Muse, playing the funk. The song, with its slap-bass and just the overall sound of the instrumentation and vocal style is like what the drunken first-draft of Stevie Wonder’s classic Superstition might have been. Even the delivery of the word ‘imagination’ is almost the same as in Superstition.

Then there’s Prelude + Survival, and in all honestly, it’s hard to really describe an orchestral intro by now because Muse use them so often now and there just aren’t enough different words to use. However, after the prelude, we get the single used for as the official 2012 Olympics song and as that title might suggest, the track is as radio friendly and cheesy as you might expect, with almost cringeworthy lyrics, like “Race, it’s a race / And I’m gonna win / Yes, I’m gonna win / And I will light the fuse / I’ll never lose”.

Afterwards is the sixth track, Follow Me, which changes the pace and is almost like something you might have expected on their “Black Holes & Revelations” release, with Matt’s lonesome vocals eventually joined by growing electronics and pounding drums, but then as it reaches the chorus, Nero’s dubstep production kicks in. The track as a whole concentrates on the electronic influence and is basically the Take A Bow of the album.

Then the following track Animals turn to a more laid-back and mostly acoustic side, a nice break from the flurry of different directions the band puts you through with the previous tracks. The bouncy keys in the track particularly sound reminiscent of The Stranglers’ hit Golden Brown. Plus the lyrics, despite being cringeworthy again at times, features some ballsy statements, like “Kill yourself / Come on and do us all a favour”.

Next is Explorers, which opens up with these tinkly keys and just unfolds into a very Queen-ish sound, being (again) very radio friendly, yet at times almost reminiscing of Radiohead’s No Surprises during the “We don’t belong here, it was a mistake imprisoning our souls / Can you free me and free me from this world”. But then Big Freeze seems to resonates U2′s famous stadium-rock sound, the vocal delivery being very similar to Bono’s, so you pretty much get the idea of what it sounds like.

Save Me is the first of two songs that features Chris taking up the vocal duties, which is really striking to hear his voice leading. While the track is very nice and soft, and probably the first to really feel to have any real emotion behind it, there’s still that unfortunate level of cheese when the it builds, but there are some nice gentle guitar melodies. On Liquid State, there’s a change in tempo, the track having a sense of urgency throughout with bouncing keys and a growling bassline, making Chris take a different approach to vocals, becoming coarser and stronger. Yet, it’s easy to mistake it as a Pendulum b-side, just without the electronic parts.

The last two tracks come as a pair, similar to the last three tracks of “The Resistance”. However, this time there’s not a purely classical link between these two songs. The first, The 2nd Law: Unsustainable, starts with this very dramatic orchestral build with opera vocals on top, eventually a news bulletin is ‘played’ alongside them. Then the dubstep part kicks in. While it’s impressive that Muse can pull the style off with conventional instruments, it’s just not all that interesting or different from what a lot of dubstep artists are doing. Lastly, The 2nd Law: Isolated System begins with quiet keys, then a low muffled dance beat joins in and again has the news bulletin coming in, building the suspense slightly better than the previous track, generating a morose atmosphere. The orchestral involvement here is a lot more striking too, perhaps proving that less is more.

In conclusion, this album is just bizarre. The influences are so sparse, frantic and non-linear that this really doesn’t feel like a Muse album in a true sense; but more like a tribute and celebration of their influences. Despite this, personally, being far from an emotionally engaging album, it seems that Muse just aren’t taking it seriously anymore, and perhaps we shouldn’t either and that music can just be for fun.

That said, to say this album has some life-changing value would be complete exaggeration, and seems like a compilation of tracks that Muse have thrown together to keep fans satisfied with new releases. It’s not a crime, but it seems like Muse are playing around at the moment and your enjoyment of this album probably depends on whether that’s what you want or not.

Favourite tracks: Panic Station, Madness, Animals.

Review by Rich Reviewz