Review Summary: Muse's scatterbrained approach to songwriting on The 2nd Law is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness.
It’s nice to find a band that stays true to their roots even after becoming a famous household name – Muse is definitely not one of those bands. Since their debut, they’ve been slowly drifting from a proggy Radiohead clone to the grandiose symphonic pop act known as the Matt Bellamy show. The Resistance
was soaked in Bellamy’s flourishing ego – the operatic Queen-like harmonies, the banal pop tendencies, the three part self-proclaimed rock symphony – it was all pointing to a band letting the fame get to their heads. Well, Bellamy’s specifically. Thankfully, though, he’s a talented mother f’er, making even his weakest outing The 2nd Law
not a complete disaster, rather a discombobulated mess of bombastic semi-realized ideas resulting in the band’s most inconsistent yet infectiously fun album to date.
Thankfully, Muse haven’t completely lost their unique touch. ‘Supremacy’ kicks things off with a bang – it’s heavy, it’s dramatic, at times beautiful, and would sound oddly perfect as a Bond theme song. ‘Animals’ is the most genuine song Muse have done in years and wouldn’t sound too out of place on BH&R
. Bassist Chris Wolstenholme is also featured on vocals for two of the tracks; a nice and much-needed change of pace from Bellamy’s pompous vocal performance (seriously Matt, stick with the soft falsettos please). Chris’ airy, soothing timbre gives life to the post-rocky ‘Save Me’, and even on the heavier ‘Liquid State’ his voice gives depth to the otherwise tepid metallic riffs.
There are some instances where the bizarre experimentation works in their favor. ‘Panic Station’ was absolutely grating when I first heard it – a 70’s sounding Thriller
rip-off sprinkled with a botched Stevie Wonder riff and emphatic brass arrangements was disastrous to my ears. But once you accept the fact that this isn’t a "Muse" song by any means, you can’t help but get lost in the funk and appreciate it for being a damn fun listen. The controversial ‘Follow Me’ has a few things going for it as well – the ominous synths provide a nice atmosphere to Bellamy’s admittedly spectacular vocal performance, and surprisingly Nero didn’t completely gut it for all it’s worth (although the “wubs” are by far the worst part of the song). Naturally there are a few lukewarm moments here and there; moments that are by no means bad but don’t quite come together like they should. The mellow ‘Explorers’ reuses the melody from ‘Invincible’ in a very different and equally satisfying setting, yet as nice as the progressions are and as well as the strings compliment the lingering morose atmosphere, it still feels lazy and uninspired by their standards. ‘Big Freeze’, a blatant U2 rip-off, has Bellamy’s most emotionally fueled, honest performance in its uplifting chorus, but is plagued by stale verses and overall lack of originality.
Unfortunately, the slips on The 2nd Law
are impossible to ignore. When ‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable’ was first released as a teaser, fans were rightfully disgusted and expected the album to be much worse than it actually is. Thankfully, it’s the only Skrillex influenced track on the album (yes, Muse, the brilliant musicians who wrote the progressive opus Absolution
, took influence from Skrillex, the two-bit dubstep producer who birthed the anti-opus Make It Bun Dem After Hours
. I don’t know what this world is coming to either). ‘Survival’ did its job well as the official 2012 Olympics song – it’s big, it’s over the top, it has motivational lyrics that would pump up listeners to win
, as Bellamy proclaims, but as an album track it sounds cheesy, forced, and horribly out of place. As for ‘Madness’, it suffers from a case of too much build-up and not enough to show for it. The last minute or so is exactly what you’d expect from Muse – entrancing harmonies, lush instrumentals and Bellamy soaring above it all. However, the first few minutes are so mind-numbingly boring that you begin to wonder if the end reward is even worth the wait.
Looking back, Muse had definitely hit a turning point in their career with The Resistance
. They knew they weren’t the same band that made the critically acclaimed Origin of Symmetry
, and on The 2nd Law
is where they fully embrace it. They didn’t even try to make a cohesive record. Instead, they took any far-fetched influence and crackpot idea that came through Bellamy’s head and tied them all together for their sixth full-length, and oddly enough this scatterbrained approach to songwriting is both The 2nd Law
’s greatest strength and greatest weakness.