Album review: Muse - 'The 2nd Law'
I’ve learnt to approach Muse with caution, especially being a fan.
They’re my favourite band, just below the untouchable Led Zeppelin. Approaching a Muse album as a fan is far more daunting than approaching it as a critic – I'm putting my heart and reputation on the line all at once.
Yes, there is much to be said about the band over the past decade, be it good or bad. One can say they’re experimental. One can say they get worse with each album. One can say they’re cool no matter what they do. The thing is; they’re too epic not to be set up for either an epic win or an epic fail. Nothing in between.
So we get to the disclaimer: I approach this album not as a critic, but as a devotee with a long-term love affair with almost every single song.
I am at my eighth listen of the album and for once, I’m stumped. I never thought my love would extend so far as to find beauty in what everyone else may perceive as a total catastrophe. This genre-meshed and genre-less album is just, in a word, ridiculous. In fact, it’s a swirling tornado of ridiculousness that hits you with a chaotic mess of classic Matt Bellamy guitars peeking out from the stupidity of dubstep.
Playful indulgence is what it is. A circus of playfulness that reminds me, Muse stopped taking themselves seriously after Absolution. This is no longer the Muse I fell in love with. This is the Muse I want to be with for the rest of my life; it’s a new adventure every day.
The album's opening line, “Wake to see, your true emancipation is a fantasy”, is the first indication that you’re heading into madness with a mixtape of Bellamy’s mind. The album is not a seamless journey like previous ones. Each song is an album in itself.
The second law of thermodynamics – as overused by postmodernists as it is – is the backdrop of this soundtrack to the end of the world.
Pretty much every song on The 2nd Law sounds like a concept track. They’re no longer heading in the same direction as Radiohead. They’re going entirely the opposite way. To Pluto, perhaps? Lyrically, it's a no-brainer as Bellamy stays with his tried and tested apocalyptic conspiracy theory-laden formula.
Opening much like Led Zeppelin, the brave Kashmir-esque Supremacy is a continuation of that epic Knights of Cydonia feel, bursting with energy and proving yet again that Bellamy is just a guitar f**king god. It’s a normal Muse opening. But it’s so misleading considering what's to come.
First single Madness is a zero gravity funk love song laced with Queen’s Brian May that just doesn’t work. The love thing doesn’t work for Bellamy. He makes better music when he’s miserable.
Panic Station, is a journey into Queen mixed with Michael Jackson in an obtuse pop thingamajig I can’t comprehend. It’s an ‘80s reject with super awesome lyrics.
Meanwhile, Prelude is just under a minute of orchestral beauty that melts into Survival, the official Olympics song, which is a revisit to The Resistance¸ a nice sense of familiarity, just louder. The guitar work is my favourite.
Follow Me also has the familiarity of the last album, with electro-rock (does that even exist? Muse makes it so) and post-apocalyptic pop while slowly introducing the dubstep that will soon engulf the album.
I dig Animals. It’s a conversation between bassist Chris Wolstenholm and drummer Dom Howard which takes me back to Origin of Symmetry while bringing it back to the band’s ridiculous present. The guitar work is very much just to show Bellamy’s ability to do everything.
But that makes me miss his awesome piano work, which is seriously lacking and is much needed. There is an attempt on Explorers, but it’s kind of stifled in a pretty revisit to Invincible mixed with what feels like post-metal but not quite.
Big Freeze starts off as awful. Just awful. But it’s saved by a traditional Muse-ish chorus.
Wolstenholme’s Save Me is a weird attempt at including ‘the rest of the band’. It’s a good song, but it’s kind of like Billy Corgan handing over the vocals to someone else in the band – the icon is lost. It’s just not Muse, except for the drums.
His second contribution Liquid State, on the other hand, sounds exactly like every post Brit-rock band, and is almost like MK Ultra, which I love. I really like this song. But again, it’s not Muse. It's a different band altogether with a similar style.
And then we get to Unsustainable, which brings out The 2nd Law’s thermodynamics theme in a merry mess of orchestra, arbitrary news reports and awful dubstep in a disarray of disaster, which actually becomes enjoyable after a few loud listens, and then Isolated System, the second part of this bizarre crack at Exogenisis Symphony, is a beautiful mix of the orchestra, electro and epic drums typical of Howard the maniac, who once said to me: "I play drums just to get paid to bang the hell out of shit."
I am left wondering whether this was even meant to be an actual album or if it's just Bellamy flinging a meteorite at us from outer space while laughing maniacally. I am inclined to think the latter, because this album, as much as it’s grown on me, is just plain absurd.
As a fan - a disciple more like it - I am fascinated by this new twist and am interested to see where they go from here. It's anyone's guess, but one thing is for sure, Muse is - album after album - fracturing and distorting anything anyone ever thought of them.
They are no longer making music as they once did. They’re not taking themselves seriously. They’re not playing to the heart-wrenched mess of emotion that Bellamy was in Showbiz. This is the energy transfer of one sort of madness to another.
The idea of entropy of an isolated system always increasing or remaining constant is proof that Muse is not losing energy. They’re just unleashing a different sort of energy that takes you on a tremendous journey into the mixtape of Bellamy’s mind.