Muse try to mature in a way people will adore, however, the influence of modern music and their apparent new obsession with science means that is not quite possible.
I want to begin this review with a little patriotism for my country. 2012 was a big year for the UK, with a Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics, and Skyfall apparently blowing everyone’s minds. Plus, Muse, one of the UK’s most popular live acts internationally, blew another album onto shelves, entitled The 2nd Law.
It’s a good album, and unquestionably a step forward in Muse’s discography. However, the title alone should let you know what you’re in for. The 2nd Law relates to the second law of thermodynamics, which subtly announces you’re in for an album filled with science and technology. It goes from high to low to robot over the course of single songs. It’s influenced, so clearly, by artists including Queen, Bowie, and, in a huge shift of genre, Skrillex. Fans could easily be upset with Muse so readily changing their style, but Muse “do what the f**k they want to”, quoting the third track on the album, a line which gives the album it’s Parental Advisory sticker, the first in Muse’s discography to have one, I believe.
We start with the brilliant ‘Supremacy’. Muse’s spy epic, with a guitar solo that is almost Spanish, were it not so hugged in fuzzy effects. It has a aggressive opening, before a slow verse, escalating to the climatic chorus at which point singer Matt Bellamy destroys your head as he bellows “SSSUUUUUUPREMACYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY” traveling octaves as he does so. The whole track is unashamedly similar to John Barry’s James Bond theme. But with Muse singing.
After that we get ‘Madness’, a track clearly showing the influence of electronic music on Muse. It is built around a catchy, synth-y, bass beat throughout, the vocals stay solemn and emotional throughout with an epic bellow of a bridge. Drummer Dominic Howard’s beat is spectacular, however, and you can’t really resist tapping your foot.
‘Panic Station’ starts aggressively, but eases up at the falsetto, “ooooooh” chorus, complete with horns. Muse themselves cited David Bowie as inspiration for this track, and it’s not hard to spot. The backing guitar part is very classic Muse, and the song itself is very funky.
‘Prelude’ is a 40 second instrumental break, where Bellamy runs up and down his piano, as orchestral strings soar in the background. It’s a track that could easily end up on a soundtrack. It’s good, but it feels a little out of place when compared to the previous track, but it gets you quite psyched for the rest of the album.
‘Survival’ is exactly what you just got hyped for. It opens with “ah ah ah ah” over a bouncy, dolce, piano line. This song was used in the 2012 Olympics, and it definitely says that Bellamy wants victory. It gets angry slowly, with some very striking solos and dynamic guitar riffs. It ends with a war chant, and is definitely one of the more stand out tracks on the album.
Afterwards we are treated to ‘Follow Me’, written for Bellamy’s baby son. It begins extremely dreamily, before synths kick in, and the climatic chorus grows an under layer of almost dubstep beats, which sticks around for the rest of the song. Enjoyable, and really gets your heart racing.
‘Animals’ has dreamy, almost hypnotic piano beginning, before the guitar kicks in with some extremely soulful, almost western (if not for being caked in fuzzy effects) licks, and a Spanish-y solo or two. There is some great bass playing throughout, and the transition from slow to aggressive is extremely dramatic, before ending with what sounds like prison riots. An enjoyable track. It ties well together with the next one.
‘Explorers’ is probably the most forgettable track on the album. It’s extremely dreamy, with an up and down the scale piano riff. It even gets a little Christmas-sy, but with six minutes of whiny guitar moments and Bellamy begging to be freed from his world, it’s distinctly unmemorable.
I really like ‘Big Freeze’, where Queen’s influence is most noticeable. It’s absurdly funky, think the beginning of I Want to Break Free. The guitar playing is great, with both a clean guitar and an overdriven one, and at the chorus Bellamy ascends into extremely Mercury-esque vocals, as he bellows “Heading our wayy-yy!” There’s also a lot of U2 in it. Great track.
‘Save Me’ is the first of Bass player Chris Wolstenholme’s two-part epic about alcoholism. He does have a nice voice, and it makes this track extremely dreamy. It’s sincere, but the lack of dynamic instrumental moments makes it a little dull.
‘Liquid State’ is the follow up to the previous track, still sung by the bands bassist. It’s the aggressive one of the two, being more Muse-ier and angry. Not very memorable though.
‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable’ is a track that starts as an epic, Batman-esque film track, however, after a bit of science law is recited is becomes properly dubstep, more then any on the album so far. As instruments squeal, and aggressive electronic underlining whines, robot voices recite “Unsustainable”. Leaves your head spinning, but wondering if that was really Muse.
‘The 2nd Law: Isolated System’. What a way to end. Starting as a gorgeously mellow piano line, similar to something like the theme from ‘American Beauty’, ‘Forrest Gump’ or something by Hans Zimmer. Then, the epic strings kick in, along with the drums and choral arrangements. No lyrics from Bellamy. The sound collage from random news broadcasts is a bit unnecessary, and it ends with a soft, fading, piano outro, as the word “entropy” is repeated.
After you find yourself slightly moved after the final track, you’ll reflect on the album and see it as being good, with some slow moments and some fast moments, some modern blasts and some classic Muse in places, anger and sorrow, happiness and love. It’s pretty deep, on many levels. But what you’ll find yourself thinking about the most is Muse’s future, and how much of The 2nd Law will be present. As a fan, I reckon that this album is probably a step in the wrong direction for Muse. Good as it was for the most part, I don’t think the band responsible for Absolution and Resistance (my two favourite Muse albums) should retreat too much further into electronica and dubstep. All I want them to really do, however, is not forget their beginnings, with their alternative, progressive, spacey sound. Is that a lot to ask, guys?