The much-anticipated new album from Muse is finally here. You know, the one with the dubstep in, and the weird apocalyptic promo video that put off so many (myself included). Muse + Dubstep= not right, for me anyway! However, my interest spiked with the release of two singles, official London 2012 Olympic song, ‘Survival’ and ‘Madness’. The two sounds of these were so diverse that I decided all hope was not lost for ‘The 2nd Law’, and it’s MUSE! They’ve been one of my favourite bands for a number of years and I wasn’t ready to give up on them just yet…
We start with opener, ‘Supremacy‘ about as close to a James Bond theme tune as Muse are going to come (although the rumours they actually submitted it have been quashed by the band themselves). It’s bombastic,OTT and at times a little bit crazy, but is very much a statement from Matt Bellamy and the guys that they are back, that is, if they ever went away. That guitar riff is one to rival ‘Plug in Baby’, the military drums and horn sections are also in overdrive, along with the trademark Bellamy scream and falsetto vocals, just about every Muse trademark in one jam-packed tune. A good start then. ‘Madness‘ the latest single, and the first signs of a vibrant, diverse album from the Devon outfit. The first couple of minutes is a build-up, slowly gathering rhythm with the repetitive, almost pop, drum beat, with the sampled ‘Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma-Madness’ vocal not impressing me particularly. The last two minutes, however, are where bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard burst in and save it with a gentler sound, that reminded me of ‘U2′ at first, before I heard another song later on in the album that reminded me of Bono and the lads. I near on hated it on the first listen, but it’s a grower for sure!
Over to ‘Panic Station‘ and personally, I can hear MASSIVE ‘David Bowie’ and ‘Queen’ influences, which is certainly no bad thing. Bellamy’s vocals are daring and reminiscent of the glam-rock legend himself, we get a bit of a keytar riff in parts and the tight drums in the background, before an encore of horns. Live performances, for which Muse are acclaimed, of some of these songs are going to be crazy with so many added parts and extras to the traditional three-piece sound we’ve come to know and love, if tickets weren’t a whopping £60 and I wasn’t currently a poor student, I’d definitely snap some up for this autumn’s tour (I’m not a sales rep for the band honestly!) Then come the pairing of ‘Prelude‘ and ‘Survival’, the official Olympic anthem of this summer’s 2012 London Games, which has again grown on me. It’s as every bit full and forceful as the album’s starter song, and a little bit mental. It’s lyrics are a bit weak, ‘Race/Life’s a race/And I’m gonna win’, but it’s clearly intended as an ode to the Games, and its inclusion on the LP, proves this isn’t a ‘concept’ album as such as past records by the band, something which I feels allows them to branch out and dip into different genres, which becomes apparent with upcoming songs. At the end of it all, it is a stone-cold Muse song that again isn’t afraid to flaunt its style, even if it comes off as appearing a little OTT!
‘Follow Me‘, is a sign of the album’s change of sound. Beginning with a sample of Bellamy’s then unborn child’s foetal heartbeat (you couldn’t make it up!), and then drawing in a pulsating, electronic beat, before exploding completely into a little chorus of dubstep. The band apparently had a different version of the song, handed it over to dance act Nero, and this is the end product. It certainly has a few of their touches on it, but is nice to hear something a little bit less than a remix, but more of a ‘dancey’ Muse track, a change I can just about stomach. The end is another U2-esque moment, too. ‘Animals‘ is slightly more ‘classic’ Muse, sounding like something from’Origins of Symmetry’, an understated, almost quiet track, a nice bit of downtime after the rigours of its predecessor. Then we get a mini-riff and drums combo towards the end to perk things up, it’s not my favourite track on the album, purely for the fact it’s a bit of a comedown after the excitement of life of previous tracks, although it does strangely end with a lot of angry shouting and applause, make of that what you will…
‘Explorers‘, in stark contrast, begins in a gentle rhythmic tone, almost as if Bellamy is singing a lullaby to his now infant child, rather than the start of another epic song that creeps up on the listener and before they realise it, engulfs them. With the refrain ‘Free me/Free me from this world’, getting things going, with the relentless childlike ‘twinkle’ in the background and a bit of a jazzy piano accompanying the orchestral backdrop. Falsetto backing vocals lead the drive towards an emotional crescendo, a highlight. Over to ‘Big Freeze‘, and a ‘Black Holes and Revelations’-esque tune kicks it off, with yet more falsetto backing vocals to support Bellamy. Sorry to keep mentioning it, but the riff reminds me yet again of ‘U2′, before melting away and revealing a bit of an empty song. It’s something that leads me to question just what this album really is. A mixture of a number of influences and sounds for sure, and whilst it’s not a wholly bad song, you just wonder ‘What?!’.
‘Save Me’, is about as mellow and thoughtful as Muse are going to get. Backed by keys, the stripped back sound of Bellamy on lead vocals and a solitary guitar is different, yet again, and fresh. Then the buildup, with a bit of help vocally and acoustically, sees the song mutate, but ultimately remain ‘chilled’. ‘Liquid State’, then, chucks out all sentimental feelings with its intro riff from bassist Wolstenholme, supposedly about his troubles with alcoholism. It’s gritty and manages to bring back the life into the rest of the album, reminding me slightly of the ‘Foo Fighters” early days.
‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable‘ , then we arrive to track that caused so much controversy a couple of months ago, the track that had fanboys crying, angry with rage at the fact their beloved Muse had dared to ‘do’ dubstep. I didn’t, and can’t say I like it, but I don’t see why they can’t try and tackle it. In such a crazy, madcap album, it sort of has its place, and doesn’t sound as awful on first listen, its ‘The 2nd Law’s’ very own electronic version of ‘The Resistance’s, symphony, which came at the back-end of that album. ‘The 2nd Law: Isolated System‘, the second-part of said electro-symphony (if we’re calling it so), is more enjoyable, implementing more of an ‘xx’ vibe, before entering ‘club vibe’ territory, with more faux news report voice-overs the band’s own bleak take on the global landscape in which we live in. It’s a pleasant end to Muse’s strangest album yet, but overall a really enjoyable one.
What strikes me the most is that Muse have been around for an incredible 18 years, (the same as this reviewer!), yet change their sound so much one might mistake them for a chameleon of some sort. The fact they attract a diverse fanbase, from teens to middle-aged parents (yes you Dad!), shows they can do no wrong, and long shall it continue, as I suspect the slightly ‘poppier’ tone of some album tracks, may create new Muse fans. ‘The 2nd Law’ appeals to me, moreso than it’s predecessor ‘The Resistance’, but not quite matching ‘Absolution’ or ‘Black Holes & Revelations’, in my books as their best album to date. A solid effort though, and one of my favourite albums of a slightly lacklustre 2012.
8/10 (for now!, and check out the stream below whilst you can!)
Muse: The 2nd Law tracklisting
‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable’
‘The 2nd Law: Isolated System’