Muse built their empire on a foundation of barmy, over-the-top rock. They’ve grown more popular with each and every album, releasing a few classics in the process and selling out Wembley Stadium four times over.
After that there isn’t really anywhere else for a band to go, and it’s this success that has afforded Muse some leeway to experiment with their sound. Which is precisely what they have done here with their sixth studio album The 2nd Law.
Experimentation is good and for that they deserve some credit. However not all experiments go well and having played around with Muse’s formula like the mad scientist frontman Matt Bellamy has always been portrayed as, the result may well be his Frankenstein’s monster.
The 2nd Law is a hackneyed mish-mash of obvious imitation, a neutered Muse of old and the cynical application of the musical fad known as dubstep, all barely stitched together with Bellamy’s shockingly substandard vocals.
It gets off to decent start however with Supremacy. Its riff may be basic but at least it’s a riff, something sorely lacking from the Muse of late. Its strings echo Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir and there’s a sense this may have been submitted as a potential Bond theme, but it’s not quite the bombastic opener Muse are known for.
Panic Station is a massive improvement over what has been released from the album thus far. It’s not going to set the world alight but is catchy and fun, sort of like Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust channelled through Franz Ferdinand and the Scissor Sisters. It’s not Muse shamelessly imitating Queen however, a jibe shot at them a lot of late – that comes soon after in the form of Survival.
“Life’s a race / And I’m going to win / Yes I’m going to win.” That’s the level of lyricism Matt Bellamy now works at. Whether a joke or not, his serious lyrics aren’t a great deal better as made very obvious over some of the remaining tedious tracks.
Follow Me channels the dubstep influence better than Unsustainable or lead single Madness, working as a dubstep song rather than an imitation of one. It could very well have worked even better as a more straight forward rock song however.
Animals and later on Liquid State are long-winded and forgettable, Explorers seems to be going somewhere but ends up sounding like a half-arsed Christmas song and Big Freeze was seemingly written to bait U2’s lawyers. At this point it’s up to Chris Wolstenholme to rescue the album with Save Me, which he wrote and provides vocals for.
Much of the album is either under-cooked or over-thought. Save Me is the exception; its relaxed, as melancholic as Muse have ever been and provides sweet relief from Matt’s obnoxiously intrusive warbling.
With the benefit of hindsight it could actually be an appropriately titled cry for help – time to consider mounting a rescue mission?
Unsustainable is the familiar and vilified track that first alerted Muse fans to the forthcoming wub-wub massacre. However nearing the end of the album it no longer seems as offensive when heard alongside some of the condensed boredom on offer prior to it.
Isolated System dusts off the album with a promising start that leads to precisely nothing. It’s a damp squib of a finale that extinguishes any remaining hope that album might contain at least one genuinely great song with a sort of glee certinly implied by my formerly Muse-loving mind.
The 2nd Law disappoints first and foremost for being something I never thought Muse would ever be – boring. What grabs your attention here isn’t Muse at their outrageous best as on older albums but them at their worst, pandering to fans they only think they have.
Muse don’t have to be a pop act to be successful, they’ve already proved that. They’re a band on an impossible mission, looking to break their way into the world of pop when they don’t have or need to.
On their last two albums Muse limited their pop ambitions to single songs. The result was Starlight and Undisclosed Desires, great songs, which simply put is what The 2nd Law lacks.