Muse’s ‘The 2nd Law’: Album Review

cstutz | October 2, 2012 5:55 am
For more than the past decade, lofty have been the goals of Muse. It’s served the British trio well, too, defining itself with heavy-shredding future music that’s led them to become one of the world’s biggest bands. But for a group that persistently established itself as the most anthemic and awesome of all, melding alt-, prog- and space-rock, and further pushing those sounds increasingly with severe musicianship and composition, frontman Matt Bellamy and company have seemingly discovered a limit to this course.

The second law of thermodynamics, after which Muse’s new, sixth studio album is named, states all processes work that as remaining energy decreases, so long as no new energy enters or leaves the system, its entropy increases. In such an isolated system, this leaves energy wasted and useless until, eventually, that wasted energy is all that remains. Working with this heady metaphor, on The 2nd Law (out today, ), Muse look to open its system, pumping in new energy through unexpected genres from dubstep to funk and doo-wop. Still present is the Queen-inspired arena rock on which Muse has laid a successful foundation over the years. But through these new tracks its often as if Prince, Michael Jackson and Skrillex each were given a chance to manhandle the band’s established trope. And, sure enough, the result breathes a welcome new vitality.

Naturally, the second law’s theme carries on to the album’s lyrical matters too. Often, very broadly, Bellamy rails against the modern Western capitalist establishment, painting it as an Orwellian dystopia with speared accusations that it is not sustainable. In “Animals” he accuses Wall Street money grabbers of being “out of control” and asks them throughout his soaring vocal range, “Kill yourself / come on and do us all a favor.” That is about as straight-forward as Bellamy gets, though, and mostly he keeps his lyrics more opaque, shrouding them with sci-fi imagery. In such verse, it is hard to discern whether he is resting on this narrative voice as a crutch the band’s identity demands or if this character is something actual and true to him.

As such, the sentiments come across mostly as skyscraping and unsubtle through declarations that run the gamut of too relatable or too specific, feeling like a convenient put-on of working through out-there metaphors without much original insight or challenging verse. Case in point: the opening track “Supremacy,” a paranoid this-means-war-anthem only lightly tethered to reality that proclaims, “The time, it has come to destroy your supremacy,” or in his plea for an outer-space adventure in “Explorers” that goes, “Free me from this world / I don’t belong here / it was a mistake imprisoning my soul.”

Most such lyrical shortcomings, however, are excused by the sweet funk on this album that would forgive far more inane thoughts and phrasings. Throughout hard and heavy riffs and a new, almost sexual, energy, the groove carries this album. Impressively, Muse has melded arrangements of horns and strings and Valkyrie warrior choirs with the deep, intense bass of dubstep and Bellamy’s trademark roaring guitar solos without feeling forced. Rather, it comes off as a natural progression for a band that has always prided its experimentalism. Hardline fans may have trouble adjusting, and so curse current musical trends, but they will be wrong to do so. Rather, if this is a path Muse continues, it will be the band’s saving grace. Those in doubt need only look to science for proof.

The Best Song Isn’t The Single: On “Panic Station,” Bellamy sings, shouts and squeals like a British rock Michael Jackson, as the band busts out a great funk jam that erupts in a fiery groove of space-age soul.

Pops Like: Freddie Mercury jumping into bed with Prince, Michael Jackson and Skrillex.

Best Listened To While: Cruising around your dystopian home city on a blazing Tron light cycle, plotting a rebellion against the evil fascist overlord in the year 3000.

Idolator Rating: 4/5

Colin Stutz

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