Promising a “Christian gangsta rap jazz odyssey, with some ambient rebellious dubstep and face melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia”, Muse are back with their latest album, The 2nd Law. With such a grandiose statement, it becomes evident that Muse have gone for a more comical approach with this album, producing music that in the words of The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis is “clearly meant to be funny, but isn’t supposed to be a joke.” With lead singer, guitarist and pianist Matt Bellamy stating the album will be a “more personal music project” and the band’s bassist, Chris Wolstenholme saying it will be “radically different”, fans of the band have been eagerly anticipating Muse’s latest endeavour.
Kicking off with ‘Supremacy’, Muse’s penchant for bombast screams from the album immediately. Featuring a big build up reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’, complete with orchestra, this would be perfectly suited as the next James Bond theme song. Bellamy’s voice leads the song, telling an operatic fable before soaring into his usual falsetto, proving he can still do his high pitched screams as well today as when the band started in 1994. This homage to “old-Muse” doesn’t last long however, as it is followed by Madness, which showcases a stripped-back approach music. Featuring Queen influenced background vocals and a Misa Kitara electronic bass, the simple, catchy love song makes a perfect first single for the album, and will definitely go on to become extremely popular on the radio. Following this trend of greater accessibility, ‘Panic Station’ begins with a funky bassline reminiscent of Queen’s ‘Another One Bites the Dust’. Matt’s echoed vocals seem to suggest he is more than comfortable poking fun at his own vocal technique. With a chorus that seems a mix between Michael Jackson’s voice and ‘Night Fever’ synth, this song is set to become a catchy fan favourite.
The strong first half of the album concludes with ‘Survival’, further exhibiting Muse’s Queen influence. The song builds into a fantastically pompous anthem, complete with cheesy vocals backed up by what sounds like Russian Opera singers, leading into diving guitar solos. This is however where the greatest flaw in the album becomes apparent, as it doesn’t feel like a cohesive collection of songs. Instead, the album feels more like a mix of ideas and influences, which leads to a slightly jarring feeling as one track ends and the other begins. This is most evident in the transition from ‘Survival’ to ‘Follow Me’, one of the most disappointing songs on The 2nd Law, as Bellamy’s voice sounds out of place over the dancefloor beats co-produced by Nero. The song initially seems more like a bad remix than a true Muse track. Other songs, such as ‘Explorers’, which seems uninspired, are passable at best. ‘Save Me’ and ‘Liquid State’, which are sung by the band’s bassist, are not much better, seeming out of place on the album. Placing them towards the end however further adds to the disappointment of The 2nd Law‘s latter half.
Despite this feeling of disappointment, the album closes with a strong two part instrumental from which the album takes its name. ‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable’ begins with Hans Zimmer-esque strings, with Muse using a glitch ridden news readers’ voice to draw comparisons between the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and the current economic climate. This tale of how our economy will eventually spiral out of control is interrupted by what can best be described as dubstep guitar, punctuated by Matt’s usual foreboding falsetto adding to the concept of a broken down future. Contrasting this frenzied outburst and bringing the album to a close is Isolated System, which acts as a perfect second half to ‘Unsustainable’, however lacks the impact and lasting power of previous album’s closing tracks. A similar point was made by my friend, Dan Johnson, who stated he felt the album lacked songs with “Greatest Hits” appeal such as ‘Knights of Cydonia’, ‘Plug in Baby’ or ‘Time is Running Out’.
While this may be the case, it must be said that The 2nd Law perfectly encapsulates Muse’s experimental drive. The more accessible nature of the album will be sure to attract new fans to the band, and there is no doubt that Muse fans will grow to love the new album. Whilst some may be disappointed that Muse have not returned to the style of music they produced in the earlier days, the diverse nature of songs on this album proves that Muse will always have a desire to take inspiration and create new music, and cannot be accused of becoming stale.
(First published in The Ripple, November 2012)