Review Summary: Sometimes less is more.
Even after only a few listens, it's clear that if one was to declare that this album contained a variety of genres, this declaration would certainly be an understatement. It's also apparent after three listens that many songs could benefit with a more simplistic or at least conventional approach. Take the sixth track 'Follow Me' for instance: whether you hate dubstep or whether you're a ‘radical’ who embraces it, this particular element towards the middle of this song simply isn't necessary (the blatant synth tribute to 'Take A Bow' before it notwithstanding). The impressive vocal melody and fitting lyrics would definitely compliment a more 'Guiding Light' style song. The controversial 'Survival' is quite the opposite; containing better musicianship (excluding the annoying piano) with a godawful parody of a vocal melody. This song, forever to be known as the Olympic 2012 song, has no Olympic quality at all, sounding more like a boss level with cartoon vocals and cheerleader-esque lyrics.
Matt Bellamy's vocals, although probably rather impressive, ring an annoying alarm bell many times throughout the album and not just on the aforementioned 'Survival'. The electronica ballad 'Big Freeze' screams 'Throwaway U2' and reveals too much of Matt's recent 'flamboyant-up-to-an-11' vocal style which, consciously or not, also usually results in godawful lyrics. The longest track 'Explorers' definitely goes for a post-rock 'epic' feel. However, the pejoration of the word 'epic' in this day and age cannot be more appropriate; as the song's chorus is far too reminiscent of 'Invincible' with the only difference being that 'Explorers' lacks that guitar playing that made 'Invincible' sound so much more... erm, epic. For a song with a proggy title from a band with slight proggy tendencies, there seems to be very little actual progression on this said track, although it's certainly listenable. The single 'Madness' is also mostly listenable, boasting a lovely futuristic melody sounding like a hybrid of a Flaming Lips ballad and Depeche Mode that unfortunately ends up ultimately drifting along like a synthesizer floating on shallow shore.
It's the more rock-oriented tracks on the album though that arguably stand out the most in a positive way and provide the core of this album. The 5/4 groove of 'Animals' is a highlight, even sounding worthy of 'Origin of Symmetry' and the funky Queen-meets-Franz-Ferdinand third track ‘Panic Station' is also insanely 'catchful' and 'groovetastic' and any other positive descriptive portmanteaus you can think of, but it's the political opener 'Supremacy' that really opens up the groove factor with a super symphonic hard rocker. These three songs rock so much harder than anything on 'The Resistance' and all contain spine-crackling guitar solos, definitely putting Bellamy's guitar virtuosity back on the map. The three tracks that were released before the rest of the album were all, to some extent, controversial, and resulted in many, many fans already disregarding the album entirely, which makes hearing an opener like 'Supremacy' sound even more righteous and reassuring. The bass work in particular is extremely strong on the first track and the drumming on this album, although perhaps not that much of a highlight, is certainly consistent.
Oh, and Chris sings on a couple of back-to-back tracks. The latter track 'Liquid State' is a short song with a slight Queens of the Stone Age feel and the former 'Save Me' is a nice-enough ballad but would probably feel far less out of place on a potential solo album from Chris, although unfortunately, neither song seems to penetrate deep enough to pass as an album highlight; although Chris's soft voice, reminiscent of Swervedriver's Adam Franklin provides a nice break from Matt's bombastic falsetto.
Hold on though, after 'Liquid State' there's that song. That song.
While I'm not a fan of dubstep, I won't rant on about how much I dislike it, as I can definitely see the appeal and the artificial havoc of dubstep perfectly suits the song's twisted samples and overall aura of panic. A lot can be said about the division that this album has already induced, particularly with this song. In all honesty, I'm rather indifferent about the classical elements on the album, but the final track 'The 2nd Law: Isolated System' provides a calming end to this storm of an album; possibly trying to replicate what the world would sound like after an apocalypse.
To conclude, things are certainly beyond the norm on Planet Muse, and the album artwork bearing a resemblance to rainbow broccoli reinforces this. There are so many different styles within the album but while they’re certainly ‘exploring’, a little retreating would not go amiss, as only the rock-orientated tracks really qualify as highlights. The contradiction, however, is that a handful of songs are too similar to previous songs on previous albums. There are enough good ideas on this album, but perhaps too many to make this album a truly substantial piece of work. Maybe less really is more, as it’s mostly the experimental intricacies and obvious shifts in genre that prevent ‘The 2nd Law’ from becoming their ‘9th symphony’.