Dazzlingly ambitious and proudly pretentious, Muse’s latest album, The 2nd Law
, will amaze or annoy you as much as you allow it to. Recalling Pink Floyd
, The 2nd Law
adds a little dubstep
to Muse’s arsenal, and while the record has its missteps, the sheer audacity of its sweep eventually wins you over. This is a record meant for headphones so that the listener can absorb every single sonic detail, which will help keep you from concentrating on the trio’s occasionally ham-fisted lyrical ideas.
A Refreshing Grandeur
As Muse have grown in popularity, they’ve also grown in their sonic aspirations. But the band’s pursuit of a grander sound has done nothing to hurt them critically or commercially: 2009’s The Resistance
was the English trio’s third straight gold record in the States, and it also won the Grammy
for Best Rock Album. Sometimes, bands will decide to mix things up by stripping down their sound for a follow-up record, but with The 2nd Law
, Muse are clearly going in the opposite direction, hoping for the same arena-rock grandeur employed by superstar acts like U2
. And lord knows frontman Matt Bellamy has the pipes to be another Bono, what with his soaring, yearning voice. (Bassist Christopher Wolstenholme, who sings two 2nd Law
tracks, including the gorgeous “Save Me,” isn’t too shabby, either.) Those who know The Dark Side of the Moon
or OK Computer
well will recognize that The 2nd Law
isn’t exactly working new terrain, but the big, booming emotional assault of Muse’s new record feels refreshing in a rock era when too many bands settle for conventionality.
Melodramatic Intensity, Sci-Fi Silliness
Despite The 2nd Law
’s sonic spectacle, there doesn’t appear to be any overriding thematic concept threaded through these 13 songs. (In other words, it’s not a concept album, although there are a few mentions of society falling apart.) But Muse do pitch everything at the same level of high melodramatic intensity. On the single “Madness,” electronic beats and sound effects wrap around Bellamy’s vocals as he pleads for a second chance with a lover. It’s musically striking while at the same time boasting an instantly ingratiating pop hook. On the keyboard-and-strings ballad “Explorers,” which bears a passing resemblance to Keane
’s “Everybody’s Changing,” Bellamy sings about a world that’s overrun -- “All the land is owned/There’s none left for you or for me” -- with a resignation that’s heartbreaking, even if you can’t quite forget the fact that the lyrics read like second-rate dystopian science fiction. The best of The 2nd Law
makes that juxtaposition work in Muse’s favor: You acknowledge the ludicrousness of their approach while still being impressed by it.
Some Cringe-Inducing Moments
With that said, other bold gambits are harder to swallow. The would-be Olympic anthem “Survival” is so overcooked that it almost plays out like a parody of Muse’s more-is-more aesthetic: haughty vocals, pompous production, cringingly theatrical background vocals, strident guitar solos. Give the band credit for almost pulling it off, but it’s the sort of thing Queen did far better in their prime. Additionally, The 2nd Law concludes with a two-song suite that features snippets from what sounds like a news broadcast detailing the planet’s unsustainability. The first half, called “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable,” dives into dubstep rhythms that are paired with Muse’s usual operatic bombast. It’s an interesting experiment, but it doesn’t quite work. The second half, “The 2nd Law: Isolated System,” continues the theme but goes for a softer sound, using icy keys to end the album on an ambiguous note. Of course, all of this sounds amazing, but when the album isn’t completely connecting, you find yourself wishing Muse would just write simple rock songs.
'The 2nd Law' - Bottom Line
There will be those unwilling to follow Muse on the journey they want to take listeners on, and The 2nd Law
is replete with moments that will infuriate audiences allergic to sonic pretension. (The band’s music never stops trying to achieve a cinematic majesty that can beautiful but also exhausting.) With their new record, Bellamy and his mates probably won’t convert those who have already made up their minds about this band, but nonetheless The 2nd Law
serves as strong proof that Muse do grandiose self-importance very, very well.
'The 2nd Law' - Best Tracks:
“Big Freeze” (Purchase/Download
“Follow Me” (Purchase/Download
“Save Me” (Purchase/Download
Release date – October 2, 2012