The gods of space rock are back. The internationally worshipped Muse has just embarked on the European leg of a worldwide tour promoting an explosive new album. Continuing with the vaguely socialistic themes present on the band’s last release, the new album is called “The 2nd Law.”
Eighteen years into its lifetime, Muse has reached a crucial point where many bands start to peter out. However, Muse is readily showing the world its refusal to age. The members are only getting better, and the music is still evolving.
The new album is more pungently political than “The Resistance,” taking a cynical stance on the mechanisms of capitalism and singing of a world that is cursed.
The lead single of “The 2nd Law” was the official song of the London 2012 Summer Olympics. The song, titled “Survival”, is a dramatic victory-anthem that sounds something like a mashup of Muse, Queen and Elton John. After being led in by a long, elegant prelude, the song begins with a bouncy piano chord progression.
Steadily building verse by verse, the song grows into a theatric cacophony. All the way down to the last several seconds, its over-the-top rock power can only be described as insanity.
The more recently released single, “Madness,” is catchy enough to drive listeners to just that. Muse has been playing hard progressive rock songs from its inception. One key to the band’s success is its ability to shift between genres, and “Madness” is a great display of that technique.
The song uses a slow dance beat and synth bass, bringing Muse’s foray into electronica to an all-time high. Stepping confidently into a world of drum loops, samples and synthesizers, Muse handily creates something out of their element that still sounds original.
The next track, “Panic Station,” is a clear nod to the 1980s. With its chugging disco bass line and a brass section that sounds like Oingo Boingo, the song is danceable and catchy – even if the throwback element does feel a bit cheesy at times.
Muse takes another bold step by flirting with the current dubstep trend on “Follow Me.” Working with a new genre always presents an element of danger, and the risk is twofold when the genre in question is wildly popular. Fortunately the risk pays off, and the resulting track is nothing less than a thundering powerhouse.
“Animals” is a slow and hypnotic track that will bear a strong hint of familiarity for long-time Muse fans. The song is reminiscent of some earlier Muse tracks like “Micro Cuts” and “Ruled by Secrecy.”
“Animals” becomes manic and fast-paced toward the end, and closes with a sound clip that could have been taken from a riot.
Bringing warm and fuzzy feelings to the mix, “Explorers” is fueled by a soft and airy composition. Contrary to the lighthearted music in the piece, the lyrics are actually rather depressing, telling of a world where natural resources are depleted and, as singer Matthew Bellamy gloomily informs listeners, there is “none left for you or for me.”
“Big Freeze” is an upbeat and catchy track, filled with the best type of lyrical poetry – elegant, but never excessive or heavy-handed. It successfully dispels the melancholy of “Explorers,” filling the air with a sudden rush of optimism. The track is one of many highlights found on “The 2nd Law.”
This album is notable because it marks the first Muse release to feature lead vocals performed by someone other than Bellamy. Toward the end of the record, bassist Christopher Wolstenholme takes the reins, singing “Save Me” and “Liquid State” – both songs that Wolstenholme wrote about his struggle with alcoholism.
Unfortunately, “Save Me” is boring in comparison to the rest of the album. Long, drawn out and monotonous, it sounds a lot like A Perfect Circle at its worst. “Liquid State” also sounds somewhat like APC, causing the music to sound unnatural.
“Liquid State” is, in essence, generic radio rock – something bands like Muse should be above. While “Liquid State” is less boring than “Save Me,” it brings essentially nothing new to the table.
After Wolstenholme’s unfortunate failures, “The 2nd Law” returns to its flirtation with dub step – this time going all the way. As a robotic voice tells listeners “an economy based on endless growth is unsustainable,” “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” completely erupts, going full Skrillex.
The reason it works is because the band’s use of heavy bass wobbles does not define the album, but rather enhances it.
“The 2nd Law” is a truly incredible record. It meshes sounds from all corners of popular music, creating a bizarre musical Frankenstein monster as ominously beautiful as Bellamy’s haunting voice. A rare find in today’s music, Muse remains a true game changer.
Chris Trubac can be reached at [email protected]