Review Summary: Muse have bounced back from the depths of despair and morphed their experiences, influences and differing genres into something that blasts out a musical explosion of emotion that will be enjoyable to anyone with an open mind and ears to lend.
It's no secret that Muse
were in a dark place when their fifth LP, The Resistance
, surfaced in 2009. Vocalist Matt Bellamy had recently recovered from a now infamous nervous breakdown in which he stocked up on food in preparation for the apocalypse, while bassist Chris Wolstenholme was admittedly suffering with serious alcohol problems in the years leading up to the album's release. Coupled with some ongoing relationship difficulties, the trio put out an album that resonated with very few of their long-term fans and lacked any sort of character or spark - it simply wasn't Muse. Sure, we got the extravagant and ingeniously composed Exogenesis Symphony
, and tracks like MK Ultra
and United States of Eurasia
had some sort of that spark and direction that we'd come to expect and adore from the British heavyweights, albeit channeling particular bands in the process (cough...Queen...cough) - not that there's anything wrong with a little 'musical lending'. But overall it was bland and lacked direction, build-up or interesting content for the most part, leaving fans high and dry and perhaps lending new fans a blurred impression of the once powerful rock gods of Devon (the place, not the meat).
Skip ahead to the year 2012; and while apocalypse hysteria is far greater than perhaps ever before, Muse have their heads in a much better place. These are happy people making happy music, and The 2nd Law
, their sixth LP release to date, draws in their recent negative spells and recycles them into something much stronger than The Resistance
ever held - then blasts them into your eardrums and begs you to bop along. Truth is, these tracks aren't anything like the old Muse that the diehards were begging and praying for. What it is, though, is a band drawing from their negative experiences and morphing them with musical influences to produce an album of outstanding and surprising quality - brostep segments included.
The album begins with a bang - there's no denying that. I can just see Muse faithful the world over hearing the opening track, Supremacy
, and thinking "gee wiz, they're back!", with Matt's vocal falsetto and pounding guitar riffs sparking memories of 2001's godsend that was Origin of Symmetry
. The band were obviously making a statement with this opening track, not only on the album, but to everyone who doubted they would ever produce another track as powerful and spine-tingling as those of the early noughties. And let me tell you, this track is just that. The Zeppelin-esque guitar riffs and emotion-inducing strings that accompany are nothing short of fantastic, even if it is a blatant hint at the fact Muse would be more than happy to write a James Bond theme. The charged crescendo that ends the track holds more emotion, power and spark than the entire Resistance album put together, and basically signals their triumphant return to the business of making good music. Their newfound emotion and character is channeled more subtly in the following track, Madness
, which is of course the lead single from the LP and has copped it's fair share of bi-polar reactions from the press and fans alike. The emotion is channeled through the lyrics rather than the music in this case, and I wouldn't doubt that this is Muse's very first 'relationship song', written about the aforementioned relationship troubles of Matt's around the release of The Resistance
. The band have well and truly taken their troubles and spewed them out in a way that makes for awesome listening and in turn this makes for such a 'real' experience, something I've missed in their last few LP efforts. I won't dwell too much on Madness for the fact that it's been well and truly documented and played here, there and everywhere, but I will say that to those who jumped on the hate bandwagon like seagulls on the last hot chip: give this song a chance. Definitely a grower; definitely genius.
Now, here's where things get really interesting. Panic Station
comes directly after the heartfelt build-up and eventual calmando of Madness
, and can be described in two words: Funky Fresh. This is a band that has put their troubles aside, built the Golden Gate Bridge and well and truly charged over it. The funky basslines just scream Superstition
, with unashamed elements of Queen's Another One Bites the Dust
, and the staccato bass blast will beam into the frequencies of your brain within moments (in other words: it's gonna get stuck in your head). Now, this one will without question take some getting used to by the core Muse community, because it's nothing really like they've done before. It's like Undisclosed Desires
on ecstasy, molded with Stevie Wonder funk and early Scissor Sisters vocals in the catchy chorus section. In all honesty, I would expect to thoroughly dislike this song. But I just love it. It's something you just can't put your finger on, but it quite possibly has something to do with Bellamy's vocals - they seem much stronger here on The 2nd Law than, dare I say it, ever before. You'll just have to listen to this one for yourself to truly understand the spell it binds on my eardrums.
The album's solid opening is complimented nicely by Survival
- yep, you heard right. That song every fan of Muse disliked, including myself, when we first heard it in the middle of the year. That song they played oh so terribly at the closing ceremony of the London Olympics. I hated it. Well, I really didn't like it. And neither did a large majority of fans or people in general. But in the context of the album, it really does fit in. Introduced nicely by a, for lack of a better word, 'beautiful' prelude, the ascending choir harmonies and uplifting voice of Bellamy's sound far better than when they were attached to that corporate money-generating machine we call the Olympiad. If you're reading this review then you've more than likely heard the track, and just let it be known that it is pretty damn good in the album environment. Not perfect, not as driven as Supremacy, but still very good. Really, really surprising, once again. And then, we have Follow Me
. I'm really not sure what to think of this one. Muse are definitely branching out their musical interests and content, and this is a prime example of what seems like it really could have done without as much electronic mumbo-jumbo. Produced by British dubstep pioneer Nero
, the track consists of strong trance-like fluctuations and folds, never really striking a chord with me but it will certainly achieve its goal of appealing to a wider audience. In direct contrast, though, Animals
comes in with a welcomed meter change - 5/4, for the music heads - and channels the likes of Radiohead
and Pink Floyd
with its mesmerizing guitar ostinatos and strong vocal delivery. Once again, it seems like everything The Resistance wasn't - i.e., interesting. It has a direction and actually leads somewhere, while the instruments are so efficient and well-used that it makes the track a joy to listen to again and again. There's something so minimalistic about the instrumentation and it really is an ode to Muse's ability to develop as a band musically, rather than drenching their tracks with distorted guitar effects and constant falsetto fluctuations. It really does nicely cap off the intermediate stage of the album, though the crowd sample it employs in closing could do being a little less harsh. Perhaps I'm just nitpicking here, though.
The Bellamy piano ballad Explorers
succeeds Animals, and the singer channels his domain effectively in singing about a character's reluctance to live on Earth, and rather explore the wonders of the universe in somewhat protest. His voice belts out "I don't belong here
", and many may feel this way about the song's place on the album, simply because it doesn't feel as strong as Animals
or earlier tracks. And in reality, it probably isn't - but it the legato strings and vocal harmonies certainly act as a perfect bridge between Animals and the track following Explorers, Big Freeze
, and it's nowhere near as utterly aimless as some of the tracks we seen around the middle of their fifth LP effort. Now, Big Freeze
is the definition of a grower. At first it seemed far too cheesy, perhaps not as cheesy as Guiding Light
, but it will without doubt manifest itself in your mind to the point that you'll love it. The verse's vocal harmonies seem out of place to a degree, and aren't as well executed as those of the preceding tracks, but the chorus is catchy as all hell, as poppy as it may be. Some fans will again probably have profound opinions of the pop sound the track brings along, but the return of a Map of the Problematique
style guitar effect could be enough to keep them happy. Matt again brings in a nice guitar solo section with complimenting vocals that certainly make the track stronger and add definition and direction to what at first appears to be a Resistance-style attempt at a pop track without rhyme or reason. The two tracks, Explorers
and Big Freeze
, definitely complement each other through their vocal melodies and their thematic style - both could fit well into a Broadway Production, or even a Disney film with a few tweaks here and there. All in all, Big Freeze marks the end of the Muse we know - for this album, at least.
Unless you're previously aware of Muse's plans to "mix things up" on The 2nd Law, you could be forgiven for thinking that Save Me
is an entirely different band that's been mistakenly put onto the Muse CD you went out and bought and definitely did not pirate illegally from the internet. I mentioned bassist Chris Wolstenholme was struggling with alcohol problems around the time of their 5th LP, and these come to life in the track which is both written and sung by Chris himself. Definitely the most heartfelt track on the record for mine, Save Me
runs perhaps a little over time without going anywhere important, but is still an enjoyable listen due to it's irregularity for a Muse album and Chris' surprisingly adequate singing voice. The melody reminds me of something slower that Grinspoon
would have written 10 years ago, but in all honesty this could be the weakest track on the album - very little happens of interest musically. However, Chris isn't done with the microphone just yet. Oh no, he comes back and blasts us away with Liquid State
, which sounds absolutely unlike Muse in every single way imaginable, but is killer none the less. It sounds almost like early Foo Fighters
, with Grinspoon-like guitar once again, however I am a little disappointed that Bellamy didn't 'get gnarly' on the guitar a little more because it seems like a perfect chance to do so. Realistically, it seems like Save Me
and Liquid State
's running times could have been switched, with some more guitar added to the latter, and these two would suddenly become some of Muse's most classic work. However, they both seem to just fall short of being amazing, yet have still blown away my expectations with their emotional lyrics and heavy, early 2000's rock sound respectively.
Well, we made it to the dubstep. There isn't much of it, and it's really not as bad as everyone made it out to be, but thank god that The 2nd Law: Unsustainable
is the only track to feature it. It doesn't really suit the band (then again, what does?) but I'll admit it adds to the atmosphere of the closing 2nd Law sequence. The strings are nice and Matt's glissando vocal lines add to it nicely, and it certainly has grown on me over time. But then...we hear part two. The 2nd Law: Isolated System
is an absolutely perfect way to end the album, with a haunting piano piece perfected with a pedal point on the synthesizer, before the introduction of news-reader samples hit a climax that perfectly complements part one in a way that I almost can't describe. I'd almost go as far as to say emotions run higher here than at any other stage of the album. It's not really a song as much as it is a piece of musical genius. Matt Bellamy, you've done it again.
The powerful outro creates an emotion that I have not felt from Muse in a long time, yet unlike Exogenesis
on The Resistance
, it's far from the album stand out. Every track has something to offer, something different and unique, something molded by Muse's dark past of 3-5 years ago into a listening experience I haven't heard for quite some time. The band fuses genres, morphs musical influences and blasts out heart-pounding funk, spine-chilling piano, dance-inducing pop and emotion-charged ballads all in the one LP. Aside from some slight production mishaps, a little too much electronic influence in parts and, well, dubstep, the album is just about perfect for anyone with an open mind and ears to lend. Haters gonna hate, but Muse have bounced up and put their dark times behind them in sending us this musical explosion of happiness and emotion. They're back, baby!