Review Summary: Muse disappoint again with The 2nd Law, an album just as messy and inconsistent as The Resistance. Despite offering a number of great tracks, it also boasts some of the band's worst songs to date.
One of the most anticipated mainstream rock albums of 2012 - Muse's The 2nd Law - has finally landed. So. Does it redeem Muse after the disappointment of The Resistance? Or is it just as average as that album? The answer is both. In many aspects, it's as good as any Muse album before The Resistance. But it also has several tracks which bring the album down to such an extent that it could also be their worst record yet. So what do you want to hear first: the good news or the bad news? Let's get the bad news out of the way. The horrendous Olympics track Survival appears on this album and botches up the pacing and sound of the album. See, The 2nd Law may be ecelectic and diverse, but it seems rather clear that the band seem to want to head in a more electronic and pop-orientated direction on it. Survival is a symphonic rock track and a terrible one at that. So when you get a bunch of electronic rock pop tracks and stick a terrible symphonic rock track in the middle of them, the results can only be terrifying. The lyrics are cheesy and the bombastic scale of the track is just all too much to handle. Survival is not alone however, as there are at least two more weak links which appear on The 2nd Law. Explorers is an absolutely vile track, something of a mish-mash between electronic rock and Queen, all the while with frontman Matt Bellamy attempting to deliver a message about saving the environment and whatnot. It's basically a load of old rot. Then there's the album's other weak track, Big Freeze. Now, Big Freeze doesn't do anything particularly bad. It just sounds like the kind of song U2 could have recorded on any of their more recent albums. It's arena rock at its most bland and unimaginative.
Is it time for the good news yet? Very well. The synth pop Madness and the fast, funky Panic Station are both pretty much examples of what could be perfect pop tracks. Infectious, groovy and with hooks that could worm their way into your brain for days and refuse to leave. Both songs deserve to be hit singles and concert staples. The King Crimson-esque Supremacy boasts the kind of riffs that Muse haven't had since their 2001 album Origin of Symmetry. Follow Me and The 2nd Law: Unsustainable sees the band trade in the guitar for the dubstep, with great results. Animals is a hybrid of Pink Floyd and Paranoid Android, an experiment which again results in success and ends up being one of Muse's best tracks to date. The two tracks featuring bassist Chris Wolstenholme on vocals - Save Me and Liquid State - are also pleasant surprises. The final two tracks on the album, The 2nd Law: Unsustainable and The 2nd Law: Isolated System, are competent instrumental tracks too. There's a lot to enjoy on The 2nd Law, but there's also a lot to dislike. It's perhaps the most all-over-the-place album Muse have released to date, which is really saying something when you look at what they've gone and released over the years. It's a real mixed bag of an album and like every Muse album since 2003's Absolution, it's filled with experiments. Some of these experiments result in failure, but most result in success. Call Muse what you want, but you can't accuse them of staying in their comfort zone. They're not revolutionising the way we look at music, but they are one of the very few mainstream rock acts willing to push themselves into new and exciting sounds, no matter the cost. They just need to learn how to expand on their ideas, rather than applying them for a single track and then abandoning them. An album full of electronic rock tracks would be appreciated, as would an album of progressive rock. Muse pull off both of these genres on The 2nd Law with Madness and Animals respectively, but they only attempt them once and they've never heard of again.
Muse's songwriting and musicianship skills are not in question, but rather their willingness to focus on a specific sound for an entire album. For them to deliver on their promise as a band who are capable of delivering great music, they need to ground themselves in a specific genre and discover their own identity. If they fail to do so for yet another album, it could very well prove to be the final straw for many. Indeed, The 2nd Law may easily be the straw which breaks the camel's back for a lot of listeners. Despite all of this however, there's no denying the fantastic production of the album. After self-producing The Resistance, many doubted Muse's decision to do it yet again on The 2nd Law. It seems as if they've pulled it off this time around though, as it brims with life and colour, making The 2nd Law sound like the blockbuster album that a band as vibrant and big as Muse deserve. On the whole, you may very well walk away unhappy with The 2nd Law. I wouldn't blame you. It's a very hit-and-miss affair. When it misses, it misses by miles. But when it hits, boy does it hit.