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Muse – The 2nd Law

on October 01, 2012, 8:00am
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If Muse somehow became giants that played neon-colored Ferrari’s as instruments, their sound still wouldn’t be as big as they’d always dreamed. Barring freak magic accidents, the trio will have to continue with Plan A: giving every fiber of their collective being to become the new Queen even as they recognize the sheer impossibility. In spirit, their sixth album, The 2nd Law, is another step in that journey, combining over-the-top rock anthems with more linear EDM influences. Yet the 13 tracks lack some focus and cohesion, weakening what should be a limitless, quasi-spiritual slice of rock and roll transcendence.

The path to rock enlightenment begins with “Madness”. Here, frontman Matt Bellamy assumes the role of pop philosopher, musing how love’s most wicked dealings and poisonous words make us run back every time. Sweet and sentimental, you’re hoping maybe, until finally he solves the problem and figures out why love makes us bonkers. But the robotic female sample and rumbling bass snuff out any chance that our rock savior will achieve his goal, stripping much of the potential passion away because of an incomplete and unnecessarily minimalist beat. These limitations Muse imposes on itself don’t gel with their all-climax-everything sound, which is often why its presence is often so befuddling

Thankfully, “Save Me” has less problems with its musical choices. Muse’s pomp-rock is more than loud noises and forging emotional bonds as quickly and cheap as possible. This cut proves they understand how to build up a song, to create a shared sense of vulnerability and wind it up slowly with a spiraling guitar that sparkles as it ascends and Bellamy’s mantras. But after it peaks, the listener is left with a painful realization: These are just fancy cries for help lacking true depth and meaningfulness, spun for the sake of luring listeners in. The danger of being so grandiose is you run the risk of not having the correct matching sentiment, so the band is forced to fill the remaining space with meaningless distractions a la a musical bread and games.

There are moments on the album where the shine does have underlying substance. “Animals” is the busiest cut, a multi-headed hydra of weepy, lonesome slide guitar, sultrier, semi-folklorico guitar, and pounding drums with their own intentions, all clung together with Bellamy’s especially evocative performance. While that clutter could lead to more overwrought bombast, the band keeps grounded by focusing on the lyrics, which offer both depth and meaning (consumerism as a primal reaction) and sound neat to boot (“Franchise/ Spread out/ Kill the competition and buy yourself an ocean”). More than pretty words, lyrics are Muse’s anchor, securing them to the world and preventing them from floating off into the ughh-esphere.

“Survival” isn’t nearly as grounded, but it’s effective because Muse delivers its most cohesive message. Clearly ripped from Slayer had they existed in the Flash Gordon universe, the lyrics are an uninspired comparison of life to some manly duel or harrowing race (“And I’ll light the fuse/ And I’ll never lose/ And I choose to survive/ Whatever it takes/ You won’t pull ahead”). But the band forgoes subtlety and value, instead delivering a comically oversized metal march of operatic vocals, guitars swinging like battle axes, and a farcical load of testosterone. That dedication to going all in all the time is missing from a lot of the LP, and would go a long, long ways to silencing doubters and rewarding fans of their band’s inherent theatricality.

There are times where Muse leaves the Queen-dom to invade U2′s territory, with Bellamy’s vocals adopting the desperate shakiness of a spiritual leader. U2 has always received complaints and critiques of being over-the-top, but they’ve made a long-lasting and successful career by making the melodramatic appealing. While Muse is clearly battling with their sound and maintaining its size and scope, there may be a lesson to learn from Bono and co.

And no The 2nd Law review would be complete without addressing the wobbly elephant in the room: the dubstep influence the band proudly touted from day one. While “The 2nd Law: Isolated System” has EDM-tinged strings and minor dubstep-ian noise spurts, “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” is the true dubstep nexus, with mounds of Skrillex-inspired bass drops and disheartening noises shake the standard Muse song structure. It’s the sort of un-subtle, uncompromising, and ultra-theatrical addition that Muse needed to convince the industry that grandiosity and a knack for the overblown can be good things. Most bands wouldn’t have taken those odds, but it’s further cemented the legacy of Muse as a colossus of genuine rock and roll jubilation.

Essential Tracks: “Survival”, “Animals”

19 comments

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666
October 13, 2012 at 1:56 am

A few songs on here are decent the only one that stands out is madness that songs is awesome. Their old stuff was better though even The Resistance was better than 2nd law

Dan Mend
October 7, 2012 at 4:52 pm

What a poor review, i think Muse has gone too soft on this album too but this is the first and last review i check out on this site

mjlowe
October 3, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Wow, the Muse cult is still out in force.

GregB
October 3, 2012 at 5:07 pm

I’d love to review this album but the copy I purchased from Muse’s website that was PROMISED TO BE DELIVERED ON THE RELEASE DATE has so far failed to arrive. I hope it’s good because the new Killers album was a big let down.

Jack
October 2, 2012 at 8:20 pm

A shadow of the greatness that once was muse.

Big freeze – 5
Explorers – 5.4
Animals – 9.1
survival – 7.2
Follow Me – 5.8
save me – 4.1
Supremacy – 8.5
madness – 7.8
Panic Station – 8.9
Isolated System – 8
Unsustainable – 7.8
Liquid State – 7.8

Isaiah
October 2, 2012 at 6:50 pm

I agree so far with basically all the comments made so far critiquing this review. There a lot of fancy word-plays made throughout the review, but hardly any substance at all. This is my first visit to this site (sent by the RIO!B), but I’m pretty sure it will be my last. I really hope Sami didn’t have anything to do with the writing of this review because it is just flat awful.

Kevin Sterling Almonte
October 2, 2012 at 3:46 pm

While this reviewer seems to be confused about some of the facts, I agree with their general feel of the album. I also agree with the very few people below me who had the heart to be truthful of this album. Only songs on this that get any sort of care out of me are Supremacy, Animals, and Liquid State. Animals and Liquid State are near flawless. Only problem I have is that they are too short in my opinion. Especially Liquid State. A powerhouse song that’s supposed to finally give Chris his shine, and it barely makes it to 3 minutes long.

While I don’t feel that this album is anywhere near as terrible as The Resistance, that doesn’t make this a great album. Muse has been my favorite band for almost a decade, and I’m afraid to say that after spewing out two bad records in a row, they’ve just about given up that spot. Only thing that keeps them number one on my list is the fact their their first three albums were the greatest albums I’ve ever heard.

That being said, I agree with that AngryFan poster. They truly have become a pop band in order to sell albums. Now I hate to be one of “those” people, but the demise of Muse truly was Twilight. After having Supermassive Black Hole featured in that movie, Muse finally got a taste of what it’s like to have a huge worldwide hit song. That’s why they continued to have more of their songs featured in the series, and why they’ve become a pop act now. Ever since that glimpse of fame, Muse (or should I say Matt Bellamy, since he’s decided to take the role as owner of the band) has tried to replicate the success of SMBH so many times. Made absurdly obvious by songs such as Undisclosed Desires and their upcoming single Panic Station. Those two songs should be renamed Supermassive Black Hole parts 2 and 3. Matt Bellamy wishes for Muse to become the biggest band in the world (he’s even mentioned it a few times in past interviews), so what better way to become the biggest band in the world, than to literally BECOME the biggest band in the world? Thus, explaining why they’ve suddenly went from being a rock band named Muse, to a Queen and U2 cover band (note their new songs Survival and Big Freeze).

When they first released Survival over the summer, I read a comment that said something along the lines of “Matt Bellamy has become so obsessed with being the 2nd coming of Queen. As long as he stays in charge, this band will go nowhere musically”, and that’s the absolute truth. Matt is power hungry right now and he needs to take a step back and let real producers come in and give this band the push they need to go back to being Muse, the rock band.

Despite everything wrong with the album, and the fact that I already have it downloaded after it “leaked”, I still went out and spent money to purchase it. Not so sure if that was such a good idea, but it’s a bad habit. Also, I’m too stubborn to not buy a new Muse album. But I’ll say that after these last two failures known as The Resistance and The 2nd Law, I definitely am not looking forward to their next work.

It’s generous of me to give this album a 3 out of 5.

Rory Biller
October 1, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Where were all you hardcore Muse people when they were still good? This record is easily as terrible as Resistance was. It manages to be simultaneously cliched, pretentious and uninteresting.

This band is a shadow of what they once were. They are still fun to see live though.

Ceri
October 3, 2012 at 10:46 am

I like many have been around since their infancy. Their style and influences have changed, some like this while some hate it. Influences change as do their direction. It may not be my favorite album by Muse, yet you cant fault them for experimenting with music. The band still outclasses 90% of the tripe you see in the album charts though.I agree that the best way to enjoy Muse is during their live performances, as I always get a blast from their epic past.

AngryFan
October 1, 2012 at 7:24 pm

This will be the last Muse album I eagerly await. It is NOTHING like the great music they use to make (i.e. Stockholm Syndrome, Miicrocuts, Bliss, on and on). To say this is the progression of the band is a joke. They have taken us all on a wonderful journey through the years to only have it crash land at the end. I love Muse but this is a new Muse. A pop band that is hoping Justin Bieber fans buy their albums and not their original fan base. 1 out of 5 stars and only because Animals and Supremacy are standout songs. Oh and when everyone gets on me about it’s their music their choice, if we don’t buy this crap they might go back to being Muse.

reddeathb5
October 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm

How the hell did you fail to mention Supremacy? Supremacy is a full on rock anthem and possibly the biggest song on the album. Did you even listen to the album or did you just listen to the songs with the titles that sounded more appealing to you? And when you talked about Save Me you didn’t even mention anything about how Chris Wolstenholme took the lead vocals in two of the songs. Something that hasn’t been done in the past 5 albums. You didn’t even say anything about how Panic Station is their most different song as of yet. Why did you review the album? All you do is compare them to Queen and to U2 over and over again and fail to see that this is their most unique sounding and most diverse album.

What weak review you’ve written. Stop trying to show people how witty you can try to be (something that you miserably fail at) and pay attention to the music. Next time write a decent review instead of the half-assed word scramble you’ve concocted.

Who invited you? Get out.

TheLaughButton
October 1, 2012 at 5:43 pm

No mention of the first track’s huge guitar riff or James Bond-esque tones to it?

Brannighan
October 1, 2012 at 4:38 pm

I agree with the people below, the new muse album is fantastic. The dubstep didn’t work for me but then again I’m not fond of dubstep anyway. Sustainable, panic station and big freeze are phenominal tracks and muse’s bold direction should be credited hugely. 4/5 for me :)

Josh Drew
October 1, 2012 at 4:15 pm

I LOVE this album. It has variety, which is something Muse needed on this album. The dubstep is dropped in a couple times (it’s GREAT in follow me) and things like the minimal drum beat in Madness is what makes it so dynamic. **I agree with Evan below – Panic Station is the best song on the album – best bassline I’ve heard in a while.

I don’t think anyone will ever be able to just ENJOY Muse’s music until they stop comparing them to Queen and U2 (and for some reason Radiohead sometimes which confuses me) and just enjoys their music for what it is – something new, something special and something pretty damn good. 4.5 stars!

Evan Lummer
October 1, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Poor review. Firstly, in my opinion Big Freeze is the only real weak spot on what is otherwise a very solid album. You’re free to disagree with that, but please explain why in the review instead of not mentioning it at all except for listing it as an essential track. No mention of probably the best song on the album (Panic Station). No mention that Unsustainable features REAL GUITAR AND BASS, not dubstep, just a rock riff made to sound like it. The “female” sample in Madness is definitely Bellamy, and doesn’t sound anything like any girl I’ve ever met. Also bassist Chris Wolstenholme wrote Save Me; not Bellamy, you might want to do some fact checking before posting. Personally I really like this album, but this review fails to mention many of the key points of the album, or fudges the facts and makes judgements based on his misinformation.

Mark
October 1, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Agreed completely. I mainly go to this site for news, since most of the reviews aren’t exactly the best on the internet.

Phi Lam
November 3, 2012 at 2:34 pm

I agree that this review was weak and slightly uninformed. The “female sample” addressed above is the prime example of that. “Animals” also has zero slide guitar, so I’m not sure where that claim came from. Not every track is addressed, which is another issue.

To the writer of this comment, I would argue that Chris’s songs are the weak spots of the album because they lack the energy of Bellamy’s songs. Big Freeze is a great expression of energetic music. Panic Station totally beats it there though.

Supremacy is one of the most complex songs Muse has ever written, period. I’ve tried to arrange it for our school band, which has been very difficult.

Ceri
October 1, 2012 at 12:25 pm

A confused review. I like the freshness of trying new things. If all bands stuck to the same formula, every track would spew out like a monotony of M People proportions.

guest
October 4, 2012 at 10:30 am

Just the fact of supposed freshness doesn’t make it good.