Review: Muse – The 2nd Law

By Tom Groom

Intergalactic gets a little bit brought down-to-earth

Album info

  • Release date: October 1, 2012
  • Producer: Muse
  • Label: Helium 3, Warner
  • Fact: The album is based around the 2nd law of thermodynamics which states that no system can exist while maintaining endless growth.

8/10

Not many artists describe their latest work as a ‘christian gangsta rap odyssey, with some ambient rebellious dubstep and face-melting metal flamenco cowboy psychadelia’, but then again not many artists are Matt Bellamy. Though Bellamy’s obsession with corruption and anti-politics may not be healthy, it sure makes for some heavily ambitious music, demonstrated on the band’s sixth meteoric album. ‘The 2nd Law’ begins with the Devon-born frontman quoting that ‘policies have risen up and overcome the brave’, which pretty much sums up the political angle of the album: they don’t like politics. The head-banging, bombastic, overdriven riff of ‘Supremacy’ has a rising effect reminiscent of the band’s famous ‘Knights of Cydonia’ breakdown, and also the more politically-driven ‘Uprising’ from 2009’s ‘The Resistance’. Despite claiming this album was going to be ‘more personal’ and that there would be ‘a few love songs’, I don’t think Bellamy could resist the temptation to try and start a mass overhaul of government with the first song on an album. Political slamming first – love songs after. Electrically driven ‘Madness’ is the first example of the latter; a smooth, almost hypnotic tune (the “ambient rebellious dubstep” discussed earlier), with a bassy background and a crescendo-like finale, as more elements of the song come together, culminating in an earth-shattering note capable of melting insides to goo in no time at all. Some fans may not enjoy this side of the album, and indeed it does seem that the superstars have gone soft in one or two of the new songs. However, I am sceptical you will find more emotion in a song than is present in ‘Follow Me’, a collaboration of sorts with electric artists Nero. Matt uses his newborn baby ‘Bing’s’ heartbeat as the intro for crying out loud, and the song itself is a powerful message to his son, one that he need never be afraid as long as Dad’s around. While the beat to this tune may not feel out of place in a nightclub, Muse make the sound their own in a typically Muse way, as Bellamy produces more of his outstanding vocals to fill the song to the brim with raw emotion.

A highlight of the album is the groovy ‘Panic Station’, which draws inspiration from funk artists such as Stevie Wonder and Chaka Demus. Chris Wolstenholme starts to ‘slap de bass’ for the first time in Muse’s grand history, and the distortion usually found on Muse’s electric guitars is toned down to create a funky clean sound, reminiscent of that found in Wonder’s ‘Superstition’. Again, this is like nothing we have heard from Muse before, but it is this new direction and these new sounds that make this album great. Back to the emotional, passionate side of the album and soft-rock ballad ‘Explorers’, during which Bellamy states his worries about the planet being ‘overrun’. The song is slow and peaceful, so fans of the hardcore first albums may be feeling a little disappointed, or even angry, at Muse for ‘softening up’ on this album, but altogether each song contributes to a greater aim and a more complete album.

One thing many Muse fans will have been anticipating is the emergence of bassist Chris Wolstenholme as a lead singer for the first time in the bands’ history. The Devonian takes the main stage on ‘Save Me’ and ‘Liquid State’ – both of which are also written by Wolstenholme – and while he may not have the powerful range of Bellamy, the songs he offers up are full of emotion. ‘Save Me’ documents a little about his battle with alcoholism and Muse fans will be pleased to know the bassist nails the vocals and makes this song one of the best on the album.

The 2nd Law comes to a crashing end with a two-parter – ‘The 2nd Law – Unsustainable’ and ‘The 2nd Law – Isolated System’. The former is a further example of Muse’s ambition and willingness to reach an audience previously untapped by their brand of prog-rock, as the other-worldly group attempt to make their very own ‘dubstep’. The track begins, however, with an orchestral build-up similar to that in the ‘Exogenesis Symphony’ trilogy of the previous album. Then Matt crashes in on a heavily distorted guitar, sliding up and down the fretboard to produce the back-and-forth bassline commonly found in dubstep tracks, all the while belting out another spine-tingling note guaranteed to make anyone go weak at the knees. It is a fitting finale to perhaps their most far-fetched, aspiring album yet.

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