Often, the hardest-working bands strive throughout their entire career for grandiose magnitude in their overall sound. Muse, a British alternative rock band fronted by Matt Bellamy on guitar and vocals, Christopher Wolstenholme on bass and backing vocals and Dominic Howard on drums and percussion, is one of the frontrunners of this "go big or go home" mentality. Muse's most recent album, The 2nd Law, released on Oct. 1, stays true to said traditions and pushes to be as epic in theme, musicality and overall vibe as possible. The album is filled with 13 massive stadium-rock crowd pleasers that jump between a range of genres spanning from hard rock, pop, dubstep and all the way down to classical.
The 2nd Law is by far Muse's most experimental album to date, however, such a classification does not make it the band's best. Certain songs definitely rank highly next to other Muse work, though the album as a whole musically and lyrically is all over the place. The band tried extremely hard to push their "2nd Law of Thermodynamics" theme, but barely stuck with it as an album-wide concept. In addition, these boys from Devon, in the United Kingdom, lift in musical style from artists like Aerosmith, U2, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder and Queen all throughout The 2nd Law, which is indeed a fun, listenable album, though it falls somewhat short of some of the band's previous releases.
The record kicks off with the ominous "Supremacy," one of Muse's best efforts to date, complete with a head-banging introduction that segues into a crushing riff in drop-A tuning that recalls the James Bond theme. "Supremacy," like The 2nd Law, is a mash-up of various styles, genres and effects including hard rock, hence the lead riff and the breakdown, spacey-progressive rock that points back to Pink Floyd, the cheesy, 80's-esque guitar solo and the perfectly produced horn section. "Supremacy" furthermore proves that Matt Bellamy is absolutely on top of his game as a singer, blasting through the track with wails, screams, falsettos and slower, dark vocals.
"Madness," the most famous single, which the public first heard on Aug. 20, comes from a completely different musical world than "Supremacy," built upon a synth beat and an electronic vocal track constantly repeating the phrase "m-m-m-m-mad-madness." Like a lot of The 2nd Law, "Madness" will grow on listeners after initially leaving them mildly dissatisfied and perhaps confused.
The third tune on the record, "Panic Station," certainly stands out next to "Supremacy" as one of the eclectic release's highlights. "Panic Station" mixes funk and soul, combining riffs reminiscent of those of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" and Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." Nonetheless, the musicianship on the track, as expected, is near perfect and "Panic Station" is tremendously catchy, regardless of any externalities
After the third track, classical and operatic influences shine through, primarily on "Survival," the record's first single and the official song of the 2012 Olympics. Like "Madness," "Survival" may leave you with the question of "What the heck did I just hear?" To say that "Survival" is bad would be harsh, because pieces of the track are better than others. Nonetheless "Survival" is certainly an adequate pump-up song that shows a tremendous amount of effort in production, though perhaps a lack in the lyric department.
The second section of The 2nd Law begins to dwindle in quality beginning with "Follow Me," a corny ode to Matt Bellamy's newborn son. "Follow Me" and "Explorers" are probably the weakest efforts on the record. Putting the smooth, sexy, "Animals," built upon Matt Bellamy's guitar mastery, between the two was strategically wise, despite the fact that Bellamy does not break any new ground musically on the track. "Big Freeze," a near cover of "Where the Streets Have No Name" by U2, stresses the extreme diversity of the album but also the constant lifting from other sources.
The next four tracks on the record appear in linked groups of two. Bassist Wolstenholme's first major contributions to composition, "Save Me" and "Liquid State," which discuss the thirty-three-year-old's battle with alcoholism, are decent if one factors in the fact that Wolstenholme rarely writes full songs. They do not feel, however, extremely "Musey," rather seeming like they could have been produced by any alternative rock band. The album is somewhat redeemed in its final moments by the absolutely epic double-track suite, "The Second Law," which pulls from classical music, electronic dubstep and movie scores, though, like the rest of the record, has a shocking effect on the listener.
The 2nd Law demonstrates Muse's happy talent for lifting styles and strategies from other places (they have been mocked for ripping off Radiohead since their inception, though their sound has more recently gravitated away from the band's sound) yet still maintaining a recognizably "Muse" vibe. After their previous album, 2009's Resistance, fans hoped the band would return to their more straightforward rock roots. The band continued with The 2nd Law right where Resistance left off. Though the 2009 record included several genres (rock, brit-pop and classical), the band's 2012 release progressed even more, lifting from almost every musical idea imaginable. Perhaps Muse was too ambitious during this past series of studio sessions, but that is what makes The 2nd Law a Muse album. The trio is known for being ambitious, combining concepts and unstoppably supporting their evolving tendencies.