Muse - The 2nd Law (2012)Pop/Rock, Alternative Rock
Muse are easily the most self-indulgent rock band on the planet. They take their campy elements seriously, and sometimes it makes their music downright impossible to listen to. Their “us vs. them/conspiracy theorist” mentality can take their songs and make them into anthems or over-the-top messes. Fortunately, they've got the chops to back them up and a journeyman's knowledge of popular music trends and classical compositions that offset their more sluggish progressive tendencies. They wear U2, George Michael, Queen, Radiohead, and Chopin shamelessly on their collective sleeve and force those square pegs into the round hole of progressive rock. And then dubstep got involved somehow.
Being completely shameless isn't always a bad thing though. Diehard Muse fans can write off the past two Muse albums all they want, but truth is Muse's vision hasn't changed that much since their Showbiz
days. If you're a Muse fan upset about their increasing venture into pop and electronic music, you're missing all the benefits and fun of being a Muse fan. Truth is, The 2nd Law
is one of their strongest albums.
Where The Resistance
failed was being anti-climatic. The songs all ended with the same type of energy they began with, and that certainly doesn't work when your entire shtick revolves around big sounds and finishes that are honestly more akin to opera than rock music. Muse fix that on The 2nd Law
, and go out of their way to make the whole album sound like the world is about to end. Matthew Bellamy's vocals are fantastic as always, but they've got a desperation and conviction in them that hasn't been around since Origin of Symmetry
, and Bellamy is a much better singer now than he was then. When he sings the title of the opening track “Supremacy”, it will serve to remind skeptical Muse fans (let's face it, if you're not a Muse fan in 2012 you'll probably never be) why they keep listening to Muse. It's a spine-chilling moment akin to the chorus of “Micro Cuts”.The Resistance
was supposed to be Muse's pop album, but The 2nd Law
bears more hooks and pop songs than any previous Muse album. Despite their virtuosity on their instruments, the best songs here are the most electronic; “Madness” and “Follow Me”. “Madness” is the best song they've ever written, and it almost makes one wonder why Bellamy needs the rest of Muse with those pipes he's got and how utterly fantastic he sounds over electropop. “Follow Me” veers between galloping rawk and wobbling bass (courtesy of the excellent dubstep duo Nero) and you'll be hard pressed not to yell along with the chorus.
"Explorers” through “Liquid State” is rather forgettable, and while the two songs Christopher Wolstenholme sings on are supposedly deeply personal, he should have given the microphone back to Bellamy. Wolstenholme just doesn't have the chops to pull it off; Staind wrote more convincing songs about alcoholism. Then comes the big doozie-”Unsustainable”. The internet had a more negative reaction to Muse-step than it did to the first time it heard “The View”. It probably wasn't a good idea to let the general public preview the track so early, especially after the wholly unremarkable “Survival”. However, Muse have never been let their music nor their messages be understated. Within the context of the album, it honestly serves its purpose. After an album full of “I'll light the fuse, and I'll never lose”, “Unsustainable” takes the frustration with technology, governments, and the apathetic nature of first world society and paints a deservedly ugly portrait of them. “Unsustainable” is Muse's Metal Machine Music
in under four minutes.
Closer “Isolated System” does everything right that the “Exogensis Symphony” from The Resistance
did wrong. Whereas “Exogensis” felt more like filler than the end of the album, “Isolated System” plays like ending credits after the devastating final scene of an apocalyptic thriller, which is really what The 2nd Law
is. Muse have never been the most tasteful band, but The 2nd Law
finds Muse playing their best cards. For the most part, they allow their pop elements to shine through the barrage of electric guitar and driving electronics, and being a pop band is really where the strength of this rock unit lies. This is the album Muse had to make in 2012. Man, they really meant it when they sang “Time is Running Out”, didn't they?