Review Summary: Did they move in the right direction... or is it just madness that's keeping them afloat?
Let's get the obvious out of the way: Muse may never make an album that will live up to the high standards set by Origin of Symmetry
. I doubt that Muse would go out of their way to hide it, and the best thing about Muse as a band is that they don't try to replicate what appealed to the fans about the album that came before it. They've tried different things all throughout their career and even when what came out of their constant experimentation didn't work, it still sounded like something Muse would make. And that's why I was a bit taken aback when even before the trailer that broke the already broken fanbase even further was released, that they announced that their next album would be "radically different". And even despite this omen, people either loved what they heard in the dubstep song that accompanied the ominous imagery in the trailer, or hated it.
The good news is, you don't have to worry, because despite claims to the contrary, The 2nd Law
sounds like what you'd expect a Muse album to sound like: mid-tempo rockers, sprinkles of synth and strings throughout, Bellamy's unique voice and ear-splitting falsetto in equal parts, and even the catchy pop songs that are bound to get a lot of radio airplay. And of course, the obligatory new touch that's been added to the picture: dubstep. The dubstep is thankfully minimal on the album, and perhaps it isn't necessary, but it does fit in with the style that Muse has brought to the table, for better or for worse.
None of the tracks are bad, per se- in fact, some of what's featured on this album is some of ther best work. The album immediately starts off on the right foot with "Supremacy", which is their best album opener since "Apocalypse Please" from Absolution
. The heavy riffage reminiscent of "Dead Star", the orchestration that gives it an epic sweep and the typical lyrics based on conspiracy theories, with the ear-splitting falsetto and huge climax near the end, it immediately sets a good impression. There's also songs like "Animals", which sounds like a more upbeat version of "Screenager" and is the closest sounding to Origin of Symmetry
we'll get. The thing that does prevent it from reaching the same level of greatness is its weak lyrics- and it's no secret that lyrics really haven't been their forte in the past little while, but the great riffs, intense bass work and even the frightening voice samples near the end do make up for it. Chris Wolstenholme even gets a chance to sing twice in the albu, with "Save Me" and "Liquid State", the two best tracks on the album- the former being a ballad and the latter being a catchy garage rocker. But both being about his intense problem with alcoholism he's suffered on-and-off throughout his career. His singing adds a truly personal touch and he may not have a great voice, but it suits the songs very well. And even the two dubstep tracks are great. "Follow Me", on the surface, should be a ridiculous tune with its mix of orchestra and dubstep stylings, but it works, and "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable" is one if the most unique tracks I've heard in ages with its intro that sounds like a James Cameron movie theme and narration, before exploding into a cool sounding dubstep track, where they actually play dubstep with their instruments
Don't get me wrong, the other tracks are neat too. I do like the rather poppy "Panic Station", the U2ish "Madness", the very calm yet unnerving trance number "The 2nd Law: Isolated System", the mix of Queen style choir and Rammstein style riffs that is "Survival" (it does bring "Mein Herz Brennt" to mind, and it's not hard to see why it was the Olympics theme- it's head-explodingly epic and over the top). Thing is though... is this really the direction people want Muse to take? I mean, I'll take it any day over the steaming pile of garbage that was The Resistance
, but Muse still seems a little lost, and that's why it loses points- while it's better than its predecessor, it's quite a mess. And that's both a good thing and a bad thing. It's good in the sense that they have lots to offer here, but it's bad in the sense that while you do finish it satisfied, you still are left feeling like it could have been more. It's an admirable mess if anything, it's a collection of good to great material, but it's also very all over the place, like the band ran out of time to properly sequence it and just randomly threw the tracks together.
In the end, this might not be one of the great Muse albums. It's certainly in no position to be ranked as high as Origin of Symmetry
and it does abstain from living up to its true potential. But on the bright side, sometimes you just have to admire what's being done, even if it's not your cup of tea. Muse clearly aren't trying to pander to anyone with this album, in fact you can tell they're happy with it, and that's important for any musician- to avoid being put on the pedestal fans try to place them on, and to do what they think is right. And even if it doesn't work for Muse all the time, you've gotta give them credit for that. In fact, since my first listen to this album, and with numerous replays, the album has grown on me quite a bit, and I'm willing to bet that maybe their intent to defy expectations is why I've come to enjoy the album over time.