Muse. A band more polarising than polar bears and penguins.
For some time now Muse has, like a man in a minefield, carefully trod the ground between enduring mass appeal and being the most ridiculous band that the world has ever known.
This dichotomy has left us with albums as highly lauded as Black Holes and Revelations and those as absurdly niche as Uprising.
Specialising in rock for sci-fi fans and guitar for geeks, they have enthusiastically embraced bombastic nerdology and given teenage boys and Flash Gordon fans a soundtrack to their lives for the past ten years or more.
Matt Bellamy is even beginning to look like Ming the Merciless.
The 2nd Law is apparently a departure from the Muse lunacy that we all know.
But is it? Well, no. Not really, not really at all.
First track Supremacy lands you in familiar territory although with a strangely heavy emphasis on sounding exactly like a James Bond theme. There’s a lengthy intro which teases you into thinking that the Muse guitar which so terrifies people who like things to be quiet may not happen however when that when it does come, it’s epic.
Madness kicks off with some electronic noises which may just lure in a broader audience than Muse has previously appealed to. This is a love song and quite a good one.
And I… I tried so hard to let you go.
But some kind of Madness
Is swallowing me whole, yeah
When Brian May begins to play his lengthy guitar solo, it seems understated but don’t be alarmed. The muted sound that Madness delivers is not necessarily indicative of the album. It’s a ballad but quite a good one. Chris Martin likes it though so it’s not perfect.
Panic Station sounds like a band from the 1980s and so does this song. Slap bass, reverby drums and lots of “uh” are straight out of the Michel Hutchence bag of tricks via the hysterical wailing of Bellamy. There’s even some swearing in it.
I assume this is either ironic or a homage or an ironic homage.
Then comes Survival, the Olympic 2012 anthem! A lot of people hate Survival, I think its ridiculous bombast and over the top self aggrandisement about winning the race and getting revenge is the best thing that has ever been recorded and it slots in nicely into this album being that it is not too Olympicy.
Follow Me is less assertive. Opening with a dirgey, carol of an intro, bits of electronic noise begin to filter through like a trance waterfall. This is written for Bellamy’s new son, the unfortunately named Bingham Bellamy. It’s a bit of poor quality dance tat, poor Bingham. I can live without this one.
Animals is a bit slow at first but builds steadily toward an noisy swelling which is heavy on the guitar and has some angry people in the background whereas Explorers is another soulful, pop contribution but is bland when compared with the tracks that envelop it. It’s also quite long.
It is about now that you realise that The 2nd Law is a rollercoaster of an experience, vacillating wildly from regal bluster to serene downer.
Big Freeze is a little bit Take That, a little more INXS. It’s got some pretty decent lyrics though, it’s all about misery and break-up, the fuel of music.
Hear me. What words just can’t convey
Feel me. Don’t let the sun in your heart decay
As a sign of the new creative edge that Muse think they have, Save Me and Liquid State are whimpered out by bassist Chris Wolstenholme. This was a provably terrible idea and they both, by far, represent the weakest points on the album. Wolstenholme has a voice as inspirational as lettuce and water soup.
Unsustainable finishes The 2nd Law off and not before time truth be told. It’s pretty terrible and the Megatron vocal effect doesn’t help.
The 2nd Law label is a reference to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, you know the one:
Energy continuously flows from being concentrated, to becoming dispersed, spread out, wasted and useless. New energy cannot be created and high grade energy is being destroyed
Basically, it states that everything is shit and can only get worse, I think. It’s not my favourite law. We live in the most vapid, miserable period in history and to imagine us inching ever closer to the inevitable, inexorable entropy of our unbearable “civilization” is just flat depressing. Or is it?
Does this law apply to the new Muse? It’s too early to say. This is a different sounding band, slightly, but I don’t think this album represents a seismic shift in the way that they operate.
Maybe they’re letting us down gently.
But there is a change. After all, they had no more distance left to run in the Ridiculous Race. They reached that apex with tracks like United States of Eurasia and Knights of Cydonia, Survival just pushed the boat a little further into the giant whirlpool.
I find myself polarised by Muse.
They are an insane mix of space opera and pop music. A weird combination of Queen, Doctor Who and Radiohead all rolled into a band which the majority of people are largely indifferent about.
Approach with caution, but not too much.