Review: Muse – ‘The 2nd Law’

Muse 2nd LawThere’s been a fair degree of reluctance to unleash Muse’s feverishly anticipated sixth studio effort, their first since 2009’s ‘Resistance’, before the public release on October 1st.

Perhaps it’s because of the lukewarm reception that greeted official Olympic oddity ‘Survival’? Or the general confusion that lead single ‘Madness’ invoked upon its debut last month?

Either way, the covert operation as a whole suggested what Muse were waiting to unleash on the world was either a creative work of behemoth artistic proportions or a clusterfuck so bad that they wanted to hide it from any unsuspecting consumers until it was too late.

So which is it?

To be honest, neither really. ‘The 2nd Law’ is unlike any album the trio have ever released, but that should come as no surprise to those who have witnessed their output gradually descend into deeper and deeper self indulgent terrain with each release; ‘Resistance’ being about as far removed from ‘Origin of Symmetry’ as one could imagine.

Sure Matt Bellamy’s unorthodox obsession with all things Queen may be getting more evident, and granted the experimentation with dubstep on some tracks was certainly outlandish even by their standards, but it would be foolish to expect anything less than the unexpected from these guys.

Ludicrously over the top opener ‘Supremacy’ is the perfect dramatic introduction, and for a second or two it almost sounds like we’re back in 2001. Crunching guitar, distorted bass and symphonic string arrangements guide this track through a five minute prog-rock odyssey, Bellamy’s caterwauling vocals the whole time building to a relentless crescendo.

‘Madness’ is an electro driven ballad in a style that Muse and only Muse are capable of pulling off with any form of credibility, albeit an odd deviation from the bombastic opening gambit.

From there it all gets a bit strange – but first some background. In 1982, Queen released the heavily maligned ‘Hot Space’, the record that at the time represented a meteoric changing of the tides for a band whose foundations were deeply rooted in hard rock morphing into disco bandwagon jumpers. Thirty years on, and with ‘Panic Station’ Muse have emulated their heroes once more, throwing in some early Red Hot Chili Peppers style funk for good measure. That’s not to say it’s not a good track, simply not what Muse used to be about.

Follow Me’ starts off as a saccharine sweet, cliché laden croon but ascends into a dauntless disco stomper the likes of which the Pet Shop Boys never quite accomplished. Possibly influenced by his newfound fatherhood, Bellamy shows a more tender side on the surprisingly gentle lilting lullaby-esque ‘Explorers’, even if the ponderous lyrics themselves may not be aimed at little Bingham.

In a refreshing departure from their usual tendency to avoid any form of obvious personal or emotional lyrical content in their music, bassist Chris Wolstenholme takes centre stage for two heartfelt numbers about his battle with alcoholism, taking over vocal responsibilities for ‘Save Me’ and ‘Liquid State’. The latter is one of the album’s heaviest, thundering along precariously on the brink of emo without ever falling into that darkened pit.

‘The 2nd Law’ finds its conclusion in befittingly grandiose and bizarre fashion with the quite frankly bewildering post apocalyptic dubstep eccentricity of ‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable’, peppered with Terminator inspired warnings of a technological holocaust. This subsides into haunting piano instrumental outro ‘The 2nd Law: Isolated System’, an eerie climax that wouldn’t be out of place in The Exorcist.

Over the course of their career, Muse have probably earned the right to indulge in their most idiosyncratic musical desires. They know that their fanbase is expansive and loyal enough to ensure any release will sell in its millions regardless of how little is known beforehand, and the tour that it spawns will inevitably result in a nationwide scramble for tickets.

But in ten years time will aging fanatics look back and get misty eyed over ‘The 2nd Law’ or will they be pining for the days of ‘Plug In Baby’?

Genius or madness? See for yourself.

(Graham Miller)

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