Muse – The 2nd Law

I’m sorry, I just need to take a quick breather here before we can begin. Okay, in… Out… Calm, soothing thoughts. Phew, I’m ready. Let’s do this.

So Muse have been a pretty funny bunch the last couple of years. I’d be hard pressed to name a band half as big as Muse that so utterly and totally changed their entire sound, image and (for lack of better term) manifesto in the way they have. It happened so suddenly it almost comes off as a bit desperate. It’s as if the band woke up one morning to the realisation they hated their past discography. I imagine Bellamy as a teenager showing up in his friend’s garage one day for band practise to say “Guys, I know we have a thing going, but wait til you hear this” before proudly showing off a Queen Greatest Hits album he swiped from his Mum’s car-boot sale.

Cruel anecdotes aside, that does really bring up something we need to get out of the way right now: The 2nd Law is almost a Queen tribute album. Even moreso than The Resistance was. Now, this in and of itself is not a bad thing, but by Golly it’s something you need to be prepared for. If you go into the album unprepared the 80′s bassline alone featured on ‘Panic Station’ might be enough to induce nostalgia spasms.

The album begins by jarring you with a series abrasive brass stings before sliding into a hard if short-lived classic Muse hook. The track then slips into a military-esque march, honestly sounding more reminiscent of an airship level from a Mario game than anything else. The song respects Bellamy’s lyrics – to the point where it interrupts itself by abruptly slowing down to let him speak. It’s a song that gives a good first impression of what The 2nd Law really aims to be; a Rock Opera. ‘Supremacy’ is the overture on the album, and while it’s not an outright bad track, it really, really falls short in that it takes the operatic style to an extreme without first mastering it. Each “section” of the song feels awkwardly slotted into place to the point where it feels like a medley of several pre-existing tracks.

And on the topic of Rock Opera’s, remember Bellamy’s claims that the album is about the second law of Thermodynamics? It really isn’t. Some of the album is about that, sure, but as a unifying theme? It’s not really an idea present throughout the album so much as select pieces of it. This doesn’t affect any of the songs individually, but it does take a sort of jankiness present in the first song and apply it to the album’s structure. (funnily enough making lack of cohesion the unifying motif of the album). As long as we’re dispelling silly rumours; no, this isn’t a dubstep album.

The 2nd Law is a very goofy album. Sometimes this works in its favour and creates fun, light-hearted earworms. Other times, you end up with songs like ‘Survival’, the official-theme-of-the-Olympics-that-no-one-ever-actually-played, which in my opinion still as one of the most irritating songs the band has ever released. Featuring uninspired composition and God-awful lyrics. “I’ll light the fuse, I’ll never lose” – “It’s a race, I’m ganna win” – this man was voted the lyricist of our Generation by NME voters, people. Life’s a race. I’m ganna win. If you voted for Muse in that poll I want you to have a good hard think about what you’ve done. It’s important to remember though, that Muse has always been a kind of goofy band. I was hard on the lyrics to ‘Survival’, but this is the same band who, straight-faced, sang “Destroy Demonocrasy”. The only difference now is that the band are clearly wearing their big, silly hearts on their sleeves. While I mentioned this doesn’t always work for the band, the opposite approach also seems a bit misguided on The 2nd Law, with some of the heartfelt efforts like ‘Follow Me’ and ‘Explorers’ coming off as melodramatic and obliviously corny as a result. Worse still, you end up with something like the choir on ‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable’, which just sounds eye-rollingly cheap and mawkish in the build-up.

There are a few examples of the more austere songs working, though. ‘Save Me’ is a surprisingly distinctive, solemn track that easily stands out as one of the most interesting songs on the album. Lacking Bellamy’s (let’s be honest) maudlin vocals, it gains a refreshing earnestness and introspection lacking on the rest of the record (it’s a shame the shame vocalist is brought back for ‘Liquid State’, one of the more bland tracks on the album). While ‘Animals’ may go on just a little too long, it’s an intriguing listen with good payoff. Similarly, ‘Madness’ manages to redeem itself from what is probably the worst solo of the band’s career by eventually blossoming into something really cool and uplifting. Again, it’s just a shame it takes two-thirds of its runtime to get there. Still, I’ll take its slow burn and crummy solo into something great over the hilariously awkward call-and-response that persists throughout ‘Big Freeze’.

What we need to take from The 2nd Law is that Muse probably aren’t going through some phase; they’re redefining themselves. Over two albums, they haven’t quite found the sound I think they’re really aiming for, but they’re getting closer and closer with each release. Yes, The 2nd Law can be a little embarrassing at times, and it flip-flops like nobodies business, but these are at least signs of development.

The 2nd Law doesn’t pull any punches; all of its gaffes and successes are apparent upon first listen, and there’s a respectable ballsiness to the release. While many of the tracks may make you laugh and slap your forehead, The 2nd Law is an album as hard to hate as it is to take seriously. While it’s difficult to recommend, in the course of its runtime, despite all its pitfalls and blunders, you can hear the outlines of something truly endearing.


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