This is probably the most anticipated review I’ve written in 2012. Critics have loved the band’s recent offerings, yet fans have been left slightly bemused, some condemning them as self-indulgent twaddle. The 2nd Law is the 6th album from the Devon UK three piece (not their second as the title would suggest to the uninitiated). The title comes from the second law of relativity.
For a band of this nature, who have offered us some undoubted brilliance yet also some ho-hum moments, any new release is exciting. Will it be the absolute classic they’ve shown they’re capable of or will it be self-serious and narcolepsy inducing? Well, here’s the verdict.
Fans were initially shocked that the band would stoop to incorporating the much maligned dub-step style into their epic stadium prog-pop. This was way over-hyped. There are some elements of the aforementioned style present, but only in a couple of tracks, and is only really prominent in one: being “The Second Law: Unsustainable”. So don’t think they’ve turned into Skrillex or anything. The dub-step aside, this album doesn’t deviate too far from the sound we know them for. There are elements of Queen, U2, and Radiohead, which have always been present on every release. The good news is that the influences are spread evenly throughout the disc which prevent it from sounding too derivative. From the outset this is a diverse work. There’s synth pop, grandiose prog, electro-funk, classical, choral, dub-step, metal….seemingly infinite styles squashed together to make Muse what they are, and this album what it is. Almost uncategorizable in any generic sense. The thing is, sometimes mashing too many genres onto an album can lead to frustrating inconsistencies and ham fisted try-hardness. Pleasingly, this album suffers from neither, with each song occupying its own style and place on the album.
There are some utterly breathtaking musical highs on this album. The opening track “Supremacy” gives a great representation of the disc as a whole. Brooding, building guitars and orchestral arrangements crash into a double time harmonized riff-fest with frontman Matt Bellamy’s signature wailing soaring over the top, making this an awesome opening number. The popular single “Madness” follows, and of course is completely different. It’s a great electronic pop track with some awesome vocal harmonies and funky beats and basslines that make you want to stomp and clap along. As stated earlier, the dub-step influence is most prominent on “The Second Law: Unsustainable”. Strangely, this is one of the best tracks on the disc. Lush orchestral arrangements, a chilling and fractured female voice ranting about energy entropy, speaker destroying bass drops and synth squeals, and an enormously heavy bridge section combine to make a truly unique track on what is clearly becoming a unique album.
“Save Me” and “Animals” are reminiscent of Radiohead at their best: great pop songs with tricky melodic and rhythmic quirks which are as catchy as they are puzzling. Bellamy’s voice is terrific. He sings in almost a whisper at times and also in the full voiced bellow that signifies the band in their most epic moments. “Big Freeze” is a nod to U2 in their heyday. Bellamy laments the demise of the planet earth (a topic which runs through the album) in the lyrics, but they’re sung with a really positive energy, which is quite…unsettling really!
Some of the lesser tracks are a little yawn-some, they’re neither here nor there. Nice pop, inoffensive and possessed of nice melodic content, but not terribly inspiring. Particularly in the second half of the album there are a few songs that, while not being “filler” by any means, are not quite up to the standard of the more adventurous tracks. Speaking of adventurous standouts, “Survival” and its prelude…er “Prelude” are jaw-dropping. This is the album’s true highlight. “Prelude” builds with an absolutely epic orchestral arrangement which segues suddenly into the finger snaps and “ah, ah, ahs” of “Survival”. The track builds with a steady beat and lush choral arrangements which compliment Bellamy’s triumphant vocals. At the crescendo of this first part, Bellamy’s detuned and heavily distorted guitar crashes in with a crunching, chugging riff and superbly twisted solo overdubs. The track builds again with the choral arrangements swirling around the verse’s vocal and guitar parts until Bellamy really lets rip with one of the heaviest riffs you’re ever likely to hear outside of death metal. The drums pound, the solos screech, the choral arrangements soar, Bellamy shrieks “It’s a race, it’s a race!!” until the magnificent ascending finale which ends with Bellamy screaming in the most epic falsetto ever “Yes, I’m gonna win!!”. Mind blown. Jaw on floor. The best song I’ve heard this year. Yes it’s pompous and grandiose, but nobody, and I mean NOBODY is producing anything like this kind of monumental and utterly fearless musical assault on the senses. This song has been kicked in the teeth by critics and had the piss taken out of it by pundits and casual listeners alike. They can go to hell. It’s magnificent.
While the album is not ceaselessly amazing from start to finish, there are enough moments of complete and utter genius to cause you to forgive the weaker moments, of which there are quite a few, it has to be said. Although weaker is a relative term and the less spectacular tracks are by no means poor by any standard.
In The 2nd Law, Muse have produced a partially brilliant, yet ever so slightly frustrating work that smashes any preconceptions of what they are capable of. It’s really quite accessible for the most part, there are plenty of meeker tracks and although some are a little drab, the spectacular highlights are enough to make this record utterly essential listening.