It seems that Muse can basically do no wrong at this point. With The Resistance, the band introduced new colourful elements into their style which certainly contrasted with their infinitely darker and angstier beginnings but, instead of alienating their entire audience, they were applauded for showing such versatility and daringly reinventing themselves.
The Resistance was a fun glam rock album with some enjoyable Queen-style over-the-top moments: it was still very much a Muse album but it had a playful feel to it which was welcome. Their follow-up, The 2nd Law, came three years later and promised something completely different, something very experimental: a new era for the band.
So, as with every experiment, let us look at the results and see if it worked.
The album opens with “Supremacy”, an explosive James Bond-style opening, a battle song with some lyrical moments and some rockier ones as well as a lot of Sparks-style grandeur and camp. The song’s overall crescendo is very cool and it delivers with an appropriately kickass ending. It’s the perfect way for the album to start and promises many more great things to come. The second single to be released from the album, “Madness”, is next and it’s a more R&B effort with dancier electro beats and tones. You’ve got a nice melody surrounded by a perfectly nutty rhythm, a great build-up and it all gets pretty atmospheric near the end.
So far, so good. The third song, “Panic Station”, opens with an 80’s Genesis-style beat before delivering some decidedly Oingo Boingo-esque verses with some very Danny Elfman vocal work. The song is a hell of a lot of fun but it’s also worryingly derivative. Hell, even the chorus sounds like something Franz Ferdinand would have come up with years ago. Next up is “Prelude” and it’s exactly what you think it is: a prelude to the next song. A piano and violin-led instrumental transition, it’s actually very dramatic and very pretty so it would be a shame to skip it.
“Prelude” leads us to “Survival”, a surprisingly grand, operatic anthem which opens on choruses, lures us in with a slow build-up before entertaining the hell out of us as it reveals itself to be yet another battle song. It’s an ambitious, theatrical track but it definitely works. The next song, “Follow Me”, also opens with a quiet, almost a capella intro. This is underlined by some electronica which grows underneath the song throughout and, eventually, we get an overall catchy retro tune with a dancier beat kicking in about halfway.
Song number 7 is “Animals” and it’s a softer, more chilled-out track with a mysterious vibe to it. You’ve got some cool solos in there and the song is ultimately compelling if not the most memorable one on the album. “Explorers” is an entertaining slow-burner with a decidedly Queen-esque camp feel to it. It’s got a genuinely nice melody which should keep you listening till the end.
“Big Freeze” hits you straight away in that it sounds exactly like an early U2 song. It’s not at all subtle about it, either. This makes it distractingly derivative but, luckily, a killer, very Muse chorus makes it all worthwhile. Besides, the song is admittedly very fun as a whole. Next is another transition track, “Save Me”, which starts off kinda like a lullaby and remains rather soft throughout. It is the first song on the album to be sung not by Matt Bellamy but by bassist Christopher Wolstenholme. Musically it’s not bad at all but it’s pretty forgettable.
Wolstenholme also sings the next track, “Liquid State”, and that’s blindingly obvious since it sounds like no other Muse song ever put together. Instantly rockier and heavier than anything on The 2nd Law, this one sounds like a really good, grungy Nine Black Alps track or something. The chorus is sadly slower than the rest of the song but it works well enough nonetheless. I like it but I could see Muse fans being pretty taken aback by its radically different approach.
Finally, we have the final two tracks, “Unsustainable” and “Isolated System”, which I’ve decided to group together since they’re both basically instrumental epilogues to the album. “Unsustainable” is a grand, orchestra and chorus-led movie score-style track which would feel right at home on the Avengers Assemble score or something to that effect. It is instrumental save for some TV reports being played here and there during it and the whole thing devolves into Daft Punk-esque electro dance folly. It’s a loud and obnoxious ending to that particular track but some will no doubt love it.
“Isolated System” isn’t quite as epic as its predecessor, prioritising a slow-beat-driven build-up rather than orchestral madness. It’s not bad and its electro beat is engaging but it’s a disappointingly anti-climactic end to the album. Perhaps it would have worked better as a prelude to “Unsustainable”?
Anyway, what to make of The 2nd Law?
It’s honestly pretty decent and whether you’re a fan of the band or not, it’s so varied and experimental that you should at least find a couple of songs to shake that head of yours to. I would say, however, that it does lack the unity that The Resistance had as that made all the songs on that particular album work brilliantly together, even if they did go weird places here and there.
Also, it’s overall so derivative that you almost forget you’re listening to a Muse album so that might piss off fans of the band’s earlier stuff. Besides, these constant tangents into songs that sound like they should be sung by other bands are altogether pretty distracting. There are still gems in there and some very Muse moments but it’s certainly not as successfully experimental as their 2006 masterpiece Black Holes And Revelations.
You’ve got some great songs on The 2nd Law and it’s certainly worth a listen but, be warned, as an experiment it’s only partly successful.
A solid 3 Happy Goths out of 5. Think of it as a 3 and a half, in fact.