As a lifelong fan of Muse (Muse, as in Showbiz, Origin of Symmetry and Absolution, Muse), I’m potentially the wrong person to review the English trio’s 6th studio release, The 2nd Law. This in itself is a sad fact, that the announcement of a new Muse album this autumn filled me with dread rather than hope. But here it goes; my progressing track-by-track thoughts on my listen through of the album that has broken all Has it Leaked’s records.
The album opens with Supremacy, an energetic curtain-jerker. Call me a purist, but a rock song that includes the words ‘emancipation’ and ‘policies’ in the lyrics is already toeing the line. What starts here from the very opening track though is a ‘throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks’ mentality that is rife from here on out. Classical strings accompanying the guitars at the start are abolished in favour of trumpets with little to no context or introduction further on in the track.
However, aside from this and the hackneyed military drumbeats, there is the core of a good song here. Matt’s high-pitched vocals are back, there’s some rocking drop tuned guitars, an above par solo: Wonderful, let’s do it!
Madness, the lead single of the album, is a slow song totally devoid the artistic value, instrumental merit, relatable themes and striking lyricism of other Muse ‘slow singles’. Perhaps I’m being harsh, but to me, being mindful of the quality a band is capable of is necessary when looking at new releases. The comparison to Queen is less of an elephant, rather a blue whale wearing high visibility clothing in the room.
The less said about Panic Station, the better. If you had told me before that Muse were writing a song where they ripped off 80s and 90s funk as well as Michael Jackson, while Matt Bellamy ‘Oooh!’’d and Ow!’d about the place, I’d have assumed and prayed you were joking… *Retrospectively adding the U2 B-Side (Yeah, fecking U2, and that’s coming from an Irishman) Big Freeze into songs I refuse to talk at length about.)
On to Survival. OK, we’re actually getting somewhere here. There’s still some inane paint by numbers lyrics, (‘I’m gonna win, Yes I’m gonna win’ anybody?) but some actual progressive rock sneaks in at the end with what proves to be Muse’s go-to and only trick, drop tuned guitars.
The only thing I have written down here for both Follow Me and Explorers is ‘Guiding Light clone’… which is excessively disturbing considering Guiding Light in itself was an Invincible clone. On top of this, Explorers is just inexplicably long…! Almost 6 minutes of drab, castrated and uninspiring material.
Now, there are some good points to the albums, don’t get me wrong. Animals at least builds up some anticipation, a hot instrumental bridge and some actual hard-hitting lyrics as opposed to the soft-core faux-rebellion inciting ‘We are the people’ epitaphs. Matt growls ‘Kill yourself, Come on and do us all a favour’ to the financial and political powers they stand against.
To this point, one could assume that Chris and Dom had been evicted from the band, as bass and drum-lines have been consistently forgettable, taking a backseat to Matt’s exploits. On Save Me, and Liquid State conversely, Chris takes centre stage on vocals to strange results. The songs betray an element of talent unknown of Chris to the masses. His vocals are dreamy, cerebral and heartfelt. Save Me strikes me as the one song I will be returning to listen to, despite it not really going anywhere meaningful. The whole track sounds like a brief refrain, ready to explode, but never actually getting there. Liquid State is guilty of the same sin, with far less emotion invested in it, sounding like a drab mid-album track of Pendulum’s (unflattering comparison #36).
And now the fun starts; Unsustainable, Muse’s foray into brostep. One has to laugh about all the fuss this comparatively short song caused in the build-up to this album’s release. I actually speculate that there was more of this high frequency beat, peeling notes style to be included in the album, but later retracted after initial reactions. This is sad, as it’s one of the few times that Muse actually step outside of a self-imposed box consisting of watered down electro-rock. I may be trying too hard to find the sublime amongst the ridiculous, but this direction is the only thing that got me slightly interested. Dubstep on guitars is now an achievable goal, and if done right, could be the new chapter of progressive rock. It’s just a shame that Muse appeared to give up on it so fast.
And we end with Isolated System, the most pointless song of the album, and bafflingly, the closer.
Overall, this album contains few moments of artistic or musical merit. Muse appear to have forgone well thought out album concepts and instead have strewn together many half-considered ideas, stitched together by laughably conspicuous filler songs, fuelled by the behemoth that is Matt Bellamy’s ego. Experimentation was always key to Muse’s sound, but this appears to just be a ‘leap before you look’ mess, relying on hype and media coverage to sell.