Review Summary: It's not a good album or a bad album... it's just a Muse album.
I'll admit, I'm in ways, a latecomer to the Muse party. I didn't get into them until 2009. I heard all their albums before the Resistance and loved them all. Resistance is not a bad album, it's a decent one and despite a few cringe worthy tunes, there were still some good ones. When I heard the derpstep in the trailer for this album, I was a tad worried. Is their new album really a pile of dubstep crap? Are they jumping on the bandwagon, when they're such a ridiculously talented band? Nonetheless, after hearing the Olympics song, which I really disliked, and Madness, which was a nice tune, and Unsustainable, which is a nice mix of genres and the dubstep track, I figured I'd give it a listen.
And so it's at this point where I'm guessing you're expecting a justification of my rating for the album. If you took away the two dubstep-tinged tracks, you have just another Muse album. Which is exactly the problem- Muse have played it too safely with this album and decided to just take the classic Muse approach. While it isn't bad, it leaves me thinking that band are so much more talented than this, and that they could write, and innovate in different ways if they wanted to. Notice how different "Origin of Symmetry" is from "Showbiz"? And "The Resistance" from "Black Holes"? Yet all of them have the "Muse" sound, that remains consistent through the band's albums. Problem is, the band didn't change much from The Resistance. They just figured "that album sold, and we could record ourselves taking a shower and folks will eat it up", so they just went with... Muse, as a sound for the album. Even if Chris states that "We tried something radically different", he's wrong, it's just another Muse album.
"Supremacy" starts off the album, and it's a decent tune. Has a bit of a 007 feel to it, like it wouldn't be out of place in the new James Bond movie, "Skyfall". The verses are cool and I love the big drums as well as the marching drum beat throughout. The strings are probably the first thing you notice about the tune, and while they don't totally intrude, sadly the song could have survived without them. "Madness" is next. The song has the underlying motif of a beat built around Matt softly singing "M-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-mad-mad-mad", which obviously amounts to him completing the word "madness" at the end. The song's lyrics were written after Bellamy got in a fight with his girlfriend Kate Hudson, and are nice and heartfelt. Towards the end, the song starts to take a bit of a U2 direction, as it wouldn't sound out of place on the "Zooropa" album.¬*
Next is "Panic Station", a song that sounds a bit like a mix of a Franz Ferdinand tune and "Supermassive Black Hole". It's catchy and all, but it just isn't what Muse is known for. I don't hate it like everyone else does, ¬*but I'd willingly skip it, and the next track, "Prelude", which isn't really important at all.¬*
Sadly, Muse will never live down the next track, "Survival". It was written for the Olympics, and hell, even that annoying "I Believe" song by Nikki Yanofsky (the song of the Vancouver 2010 winter Olympics) feels more Olympics than this. The opening of the tune is cringe worthy, but thankfully when the singing kicks in, it starts to get tolerable, until the choir from The Omen soundtrack start chanting "So I told you" and "You were warned and didn't listen" for absolutely no reason at all. The song is easy the most over-the-top thing I've ever heard in my life, and not in a good way. If you want to write a song for the Olympics, why not just do a typical Muse track like "Time is Running Out" or "Resistance", instead of wasting a perfectly talented choir and making it sound like Queen singing a theme for a Tim Burton movie?
Thankfully things pick up afterword, with the next track being "Follow Me". It starts with the sound of a baby's heart beat, and Matt crooning a lovely tune. The song starts to sound a bit like "MK Ultra" from their previous albums before the dubstep beat kicks in, and even then it's tolerable. It's a fun track that at the same time sounds really much like a filler track. "Animals" might be my favourite song in the album- a soft, subdued rocker that wouldn't be out of place on Origin of Symmetry, and reminds me a bit of a more uptempo "Screenager". The song closes with a rather frightening sound clip from the Wall Street Trading Floor, which explains the song's meaning- it's about the greed of people in the stock market, and how they show no regard for others, only caring about themselves. Sadly, it's followed by "Explorers", a song so forgettable I can't even remember anything about it.
Big Freeze is a catchy tune, but THOSE LYRICS. While listening to it, I thought to myself, "if I hear the words Don't give up' one more time, I'm throwing this CD in the garbage", as I heard them several times throughout (and similar phrases too). It's a shame, because the song's music is fine enough. "Save Me" and "Liquid State" are most known for having Christopher Wolstenholme singing. As he's my favourite member of the band, I was anticipating these tracks greatly. And he's a decent singer, he sounds a bit like the guy from Finger Eleven. But there's a reason he doesn't sing for Muse. "Liquid State" is the better of these two tracks, mainly because it's faster and heavier, but both tracks are really forgettable and the album would have survived without them.
The last two tracks are the finale of the album, and both are very different. Starting off with "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable". People accuse this song of being too much of an attempt to jump on the brostep bandwagon, but I think it's a very intriguing mix of genres. It starts off as a classical tune that wouldn't be out of place in a Zack Snyder film. There's an interesting monologue explaining the 2nd law of therodynamics. "New energy cannot be created and if high energy ¬*is being destroyed, an economy based on endless growth is..." is suddenly cut off by a robot voice phonetically saying "UN...SUSTAINABLE", before the song explodes into a brostep breakdown. And despite my utter distaste of dubstep, the breakdown sounds awesome. For starters, the band actually plays the dubstep part on their instruments, as opposed to Skrillex and (insert generic step musician here), who does it all on a computer. Then a few bars of proggy symphonic rock pla, with Matt vocalizing, which manages to be very epic feeling. Then, after another monologue and epic drumming, the brostep part comes back in again.
Next is "Isolated System". There's no dubstep here, and the song is more trance influenced than anything. The song loops the line from the previous song, "In an isolated system, the entropy can only increase. The song is decidedly more trance influenced, and has a subdued. electro-trance beat ¬*throughout. This is a truly unique track. It feels very subdued, and also like there's a lot of rage and energy dying to get out at the same time.
The 2nd Law is very different from its predecessor. They're similar in the sense that they're both complete messes. But The Resistance is a mess that somehow manages to keep moving in a straight line, has a sense of direction and knows where it's headed. The 2nd Law is more like a six year old kid with ADHD telling a story. It constantly loses track of where it's going, and seems to not know what its goal really is. The album feels more like a compilation instead of an album- the tracks feel really out of sequence and like the band didn't seem to know what they wanted with the album.
¬*Problem is, it's too much of a Muse album, even for a Muse album. I really would like if they decided to do something outside their comfort zone. And it's not like they have to radically change, I mean, hell, my favourite band, Iron Maiden change all the time and yet still have that Iron Maiden sound. But they don't make it so that they just get lazy and take the classic Route.
Yet, the album is still very listenable and there's a good number of standout tracks. Sure it's my 2nd least favourite of their albums (The Resistance takes that top spot), but it's enjoyable to an extent, and I'd like to hear how the tracks sound live.