Album Review: Muse, “The 2nd Law” (2012)

English rock band, Muse, has been around since 1999.  I first got turned onto the band around 2008, but have gone back to familiarize myself with the rest of their catalog and have subsequently seen the band explore a number of musical styles since then.

Their most recent effort, The 2nd Law (released in 2012), is almost like a homage to every sound Muse has ever experimented with; there’s heavy rock tracks, tender ballads, progressive rock numbers, and even a few electronica songs. Though the eclectic mix might sound like a bit of a headache on paper, lead singer/guitarist, Matthew Bellamy and his bandmates (Christopher Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard), seem to weave through each genre pretty flawlessly.

The album begins with some killer guitar riffs courtesy of Supremacy. The track definitely calls to mind some of Muse’s earlier pop/rock tracks, and has just the right amount of guitar and energetic vocals to set the album off to a thrilling start.

The disc leads right into the current single, Madness, which is the clear highlight of the album. From the stuttering repetition of title, to the pulsating beat and Bellamy’s sultry vocals, the song is incredibly sexy, seductive and amazingly catchy. It’s got the markings of a perfect radio hit, but the song is also one that Muse should be extremely proud of as a band; it’s one of those rare tracks that you hear, instantly love and can’t get enough of.

I’m also a big fan of the album’s first single, Survival. The track did get a lot of criticism for being “over the top”, but hell- it’s Muse we’re talking about here – they aren’t really known for being understated.  Besides, a good glam rock track is supposed to be over the top.  Anyway, I instantly loved the lyrics about striving to make it to the top (the track was actually written for the 2012 Olympic Games), and even more so loved the heavy guitar, drums, backing chorus, of course, Bellamy’s strong vocal delivery. The final note of the song always manages to give me chills – in a good way, of course.

I was going to keep my Queen/Freddie Mercury comparisons down to a bare minimum, but how could anyone listen to Panic Station without Queen coming to mind? The beat sounds pretty similar toAnother One Bites the Dust and Bellamy does his best Mercury impression as he purrs over the lyrics. This isn’t a bad thing, though- I’ve always been a fan of a funky beat and this song definitely has one. Even if I do feel like I’m revisiting the 70′s while listening to it.

Another standout is the downtempo ballad, Follow Me. The track definitely calls to mind some of Muse’s earlier work during the opening verses; production is stripped down to a few quiet synthesizers and vocals. However, by the chorus, the song segues into a dubstep break and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me that dubstep musician, Skrillex, was a collaborator on this one. Funnily enough, it all works really well together, and makes for an exciting song.

Save Me is a more traditional ballad, and easily one of the most beautiful Muse songs I’ve ever heard (second to my old favorite, Falling Away With You). Surprinsgly, bassist Christopher Wolstenholme takes up the lead vocals for this track (as well as on Liquid State) and he sounds earnest and endearing as he sings, “Don’t let me go, ’cause I’m nothing without you.” Though the lyrics and melody are simplistic, the simplicity is well-received after some of the louder, heavier tracks on the album.

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Every song can’t be a hit, however. Though Animals is heavy on political commentary, the melody lacks any other sort of statement and just sort of plays on as background music. Explorers is a pretty ballad, sounding similar to a lullaby, but never really progresses to anything more than tinkly piano and hushed vocals, making it an easy song to pass on. Liquid State has a bit of a punk/rock sound to it, but even the change of style doesn’t save the song from falling into mediocrity.

The worst offender, however, is Big Freeze. I know Muse has always been about making political statements in their music, and I do care about global warming, really, I do- but I don’t really want to hear about it in my pop music, thank you. Especially when said song sounds like a lackluster Muse-inspired track that undiscovered “artist” would sing on his Yamaha at a coffee shop, instead of something by an actual established band. I think it’s safe to say Big Freeze is my least favorite track on the album.

I know I made a joke about dubstep and Skrillex earlier, but The 2nd Law: Unsustainable sounds like something right out of Skrillex’s debut album. Again, I’m surprised by the fact that Muse can pull off a dubstep song, because this track just sounds cool. Maybe non-fans of dubstep wouldn’t appreciate it, but I think the track goes over well and fades in perfectly with The 2nd Law: Isolated System. The second half of the song is a minimalistic number, which really does nothing more than tie the album up with an instrumental piece and news clips about the dismal state of the world we live in.

Overall, The 2nd Law is a strong effort from Muse. The variety of genres on the album, is less about Muse not knowing their niche, and more of a way of Muse showing off just how fluidly they can genre-hop as a band.  It’s always a treat to see a band evolve musically, and The 2nd Law definitely shows that Muse has done just that.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Supremacy
2. Madness
3. Panic Station
4. Prelude
5. Survival
6. Follow Me
7. Animals
8. Explorers
9. Big Freeze
10. Save Me
11. Liquid State
12. The 2nd Law: Unsustainable
13. The 2nd Law: Isolated System

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ek0SgwWmF9w]
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