For Fans Of
In late 2011, bassist Chris Wolstenholme stated that Muse were "drawing a line under a certain period" with ‘The 2nd Law‘, their sixth studio album. They got that right. At times familiar, yet at times so far removed from the classic Muse sound that fans may wonder if it really is the same band. This is an album rife with experimentation.
Building on themes and ideas introduced on 2009’s ‘The Resistance‘, Muse present a melodramatic sense of urgency expressed through forthright lyrics and a cinematic production style. Guitars have mysteriously been replaced by synths, and the popular dance music genre known as dubstep occasionally makes its presence known.
Not so, however, on the militaristic opening track, ‘Supremacy‘. This is a stripped down version of Muse‘s rockier side, featuring a huge guitar riff, strings and horns, and a theatrical vocal that is very much within the band’s comfort zone. Nothing too out of the ordinary.
Enter ‘Madness‘. An annoyingly catchy electronic bass line, electronic drums, and a minimal production style. The song itself isn’t bad, although it screams Queen from every conceivable angle, including the short but sweet Brian May-inspired guitar solo – it sounds like no Muse you’ve ever heard before.
‘Panic Station‘ is a similarly bizarre movement, this time in the form of a funk rock jam. It’s catchy, but not entirely suited to frontman Matthew Bellamy‘s voice. The beautifully orchestral ‘Prelude‘ then leads into ‘Survival‘, a failed attempt at anthemic stadium rock that falls flat due to unimaginative lyrics. This song sounds like a bad joke, and the band haven’t realised they’re telling it.
‘Follow Me‘, a collaborative production with Nero, sounds more like a remix than an original. If, at this point, you’re wondering whether or not to continue listening, do. The album picks up from here.
The inevitable Radiohead comparison comes in the form of ‘Animals‘, a brooding odd-time composition with moody electric piano and beautiful guitar fills. Think ‘Morning Bell‘ from ‘Kid A‘ and you’re nearly there. ‘Explorers‘ is a post-‘Absolution‘ lament for a simpler world, while ‘Big Freeze‘ channels U2 in a neat, environmental anthem.
Now for a real surprise: two songs written and sung by Chris Wolstenholme. His voice is pleasant, although somewhat stilted, and his songs add a fresh perspective to the Muse sound. ‘Save Me‘ is a luscious, pastoral song with intricately layered guitars, and is followed by the powerful but bland ‘Liquid State‘.
The final two tracks give Muse a chance to branch out like never before. ‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable‘ opens with an epic orchestral buildup over which a female voice describes the second law of thermodynamics, which gives way to a dubstep breakdown, Muse-style. ‘The 2nd Law: Isolated System‘ plays out like the final scene of an environmental disaster film.
‘The 2nd Law’ takes many unexpected twists and turns, drawing on a greater variety of sounds than Muse are known for, but several blatant references to Queen and other eminent artists betray the fact that this is a pastiche. The album represents the band at the height of thematic transparency, with strong political, economic and environmental overtones, and while there are plenty of melodic references to previous songs that identity it as a Muse album, they sometimes go places that are cringe worthy at best. Muse shouldn’t be a guilty pleasure, but with ‘The 2nd Law’, they have become just that.
3. Panic Station
6. Follow Me
9. Big Freeze
10. Save Me
11. Liquid State
12. The 2nd Law: Unsustainable
13. The 2nd Law: Isolated System