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TBTS Reviews: Muse, The 2nd Law

October 3, 2012
Muse, The 2nd Law, album art

Muse, I am disappoint.

Their discography started strong right out of the gate with 1999’s Showbiz, and improved exponentially through Origin of Symmetry, peaking with 2003’s Absolution. They maintained that level of quality with Black Holes & Revelations but have been on a steady decline since then. 2009’s The Resistance had a couple of good songs, but was mostly a self-indulgent mess. And now the same is true of The 2nd Law, released yesterday in the US.

The structure of The 2nd Law is almost identical to Resistance: a couple of decent rockers surrounded by unremarkable blah capped off by an incomprehensible, ostentatious, and entirely skippable orchestral suite. Let me be clear, this is not a bad album. It’s just… “not good,” in the same way that The Resistance was “not good.” The album’s opener, “Supremacy,” starts off pretty well, with the gnarly guitar and bass riffing we’ve come to expect from Muse but as soon as it reaches the first verse it devolves into front-man Matt Bellamy’s version of Phantom of the Opera. Bellamy’s vocals take on the breathy, theatrical tone one gets from an opera singer who’s trying just a little too hard to emote. Second track “Madness,” while deviating stylistically from the Muse of old (in the same way that The Resistance‘s “Undisclosed Desires” deviated), is actually not a bad song; it just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the record. “Panic Station” may be one of the worst songs I’ve heard from any band, let alone Muse; all ersatz funk, falsetto, and lazy, bickety-bick bass.

Songs like “Survival” and “Animals” are understated enough to be at least inoffensive, harkening back to the melodic sensibilities of classics like “New Born” without the mid-song riffing that particular track is famous for. “Big Freeze” is actually pretty good, in an electronic-rock kinda way. “Follow Me,” apparently an ode to Bellamy’s infant son (with wife Kate Hudson), again dishes out the operatic nonsense. Two of the album’s later tracks, “Save Me” and “Liquid State,” are sung by bassist Chris Wolstenholme. They are also not offensively bad, just unremarkable when compared to Muse classics like “Starlight” or the blistering “Hysteria.”

The album closes with “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” and “The 2nd Law: Isolated System.” The former is a grandiose, orchestrated piece coupled with completely out of place stab at dubstep. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against Skrillex and his contemporaries (whose influence here is apparent); it just doesn’t fit here, and stands out only as an obvious attempt to cash in on a trend.

Let it be known that I am not just some hater. I’m a Muse fan from way back. I saw them in 2000 on their first US tour, opening for Foo Fighters & Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’ve seen them 3 additional times since then; including twice almost back-to-back on the same tour. I’ve written an embarrassingly gushing review of their live show, and whenever any metalhead derides Muse as “Eurotrash pop” I make him listen to “Dead Star;” it usually shuts him up. But The 2nd Law seems to me like the output of a band locked in self-indulgent freefall. A lot of reviews have praised this record for its ambition, but I wonder if those reviewers took Muse’s entire catalog into account. As a stand-alone release, I suppose The 2nd Law does sound like an ambitious, everything-on-ten, stylistic free-for-all; a solid release from a group of talented and wide-eyed musicians. But to this old Muse fan, compared to the perfection that was Absolution and the near-perfection that was Black Holes & Revelations, it’s pretty much a dud.

If you are a casual Muse fan, I suggest you skip it. This one’s for completists (like me) only.

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