Is it even possible to look at Muse objectively anymore? We’ve arrived at the stanza where no two diehards tell the same story on the band, and constructing a cut-off point where they ‘changed’ is a task beyond reckoning. When Matt Bellamy outlined The 2nd Law as an experimentation album you knew it was going to be just that, and whilst its polarizing reaction thus far has focused almost exclusively on the plethora of invoked genres and styles, let’s just keep things basic with a look at just how memorable it seeks to be against its tenacity, and whether the album’s thermodynamic name sake suggests the same irreversibility in sound that occurs in nature.
Already from the opening we can picture the soon to be unveiled lavish and insane theatrics that will open these tracks on stage. ‘Supremacy’ furthers the band’s rock opera tendencies with thunderous crashes that immediately conjure up the expected flashing lights. Likewise Bellamy’s extended vocal introduction, sparing accompaniment, would no doubt literally take centre stage. It’s still impossible to fault on a technical level though as the singing is done with the same conviction as if it were at the show to end all shows, and the guitar riff would be so iconic if this was any other band’s first rodeo.
It would be too presumptuous to call this track the album’s prelude. Muse would never be so pretentious, instead they’d save it for later on and actually call it ‘Prelude’. And of course it would have to set up their greatest achievement to date, albeit not their most loved: the London 2012 anthem ‘Survival’. Still fresh in our minds after its constant repeated plays during the games (second only to the Chariots of Fire theme) it’s a song that accomplished all it set out to with its cheesiness, daresay even campiness, but you can’t help but imagine unrealistically skilled athletes doing what we expect them to do in a variety of cinematic camera angles as it plays.
With the remaining track list, the music reaches not so much to hit a certain genre, but the top grade bands within said genres. If you’re big on Queen, the iron pumped bass in ‘Panic Station’ from Christopher Wolstenhome or the 80’s jazzercize style of ‘Big Freeze’ will be big on you. Like Placebo? Try ‘Liquid State’. Into Nero? Give ‘Follow Me’ a listen. Skrillex? We’ll get to that…
I’m not suggesting any kind of attempt to emulate; indeed this isn’t really criticism at all. As an experimental approach this unabashed thrust into so many areas is quite the impressive pitch, as if each one would lead to a parallel Universe with its own version of Muse. And it’s not as if each song feels meaningless either. As always the song writing is profound, and seemingly always rooted into the album’s core idea of entropy, whether that be the frightening noises building throughout ‘Animals’ or the futuristic setting in which ‘Madness’ sits, reflecting on eons of just that.
Beforehand though this reviewer never would’ve imaged his favourite track would be the greatest departure on offer. Bellamy is shoved aside as lead vocalist, composer and writer by the band’s deeper half Chirstopher Wolstenhome, who takes the reins in ‘Save Me’. But it isn’t just the dramatic switch over, the ballad itself is such a great listen that finally strikes that bombastic goal every other track achieves without over-blowing itself. It’s just superb in so many regards.
So finally, that elephant in the room: the album’s dual self titled tracks. If anything was to split fans and fanatics alike, then the heavily over mixed odyssey that is ‘Unsustainable’ and ‘Isolated System’ would certainly do it. As someone who loves Symphony of Science, I certainly can’t fault the concept and samples, but where most will draw the line is the dubstep. This is that historic point where the marmite genre officially announces “we’re now, we’re loud, we’re GRAAAAWWWR WUB WUB WUB WUB”.
Those three stars are really a choice for you. If you were overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity of the finale then this is will be one good listen for you, no more, no less. But, if you were somehow able to draw a sense of the quite dark and cold hearted message masked in both parts of 2nd Law, then you’ll probably join me in wanting to place one more on in secret, though be prepared to get into a lengthy debate with any traditional Muse fan who asks why.
Words > Graham Ashton