Release Date: Oct 2, 2012
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Neo-Prog
Muse have specialized in drama-rock gigantism for more than a decade – long enough to get really good at it. The trio's sixth LP is their most expansive and varied yet, filling out a go-to mix of Queen boom and Radiohead gloom with disco Bowie, Eighties U2, metal, dubstep and enough strings to support a suspension bridge – then wrapping this distinctly English prog-rock crazy quilt around a distinctly English prog-rock theme (something about thermodynamics and economic collapse). When a song that was entrance music at the Olympics ("Survival") barely gets the bronze for Most Epic Thing on Your Record, that's a triumph that would make Freddie Mercury's mustache tingle.
The Olympic and Paralympic Games turned out brilliantly in the end, but you can’t blame people for being cynical as they approached. Londoners were narked about the potential transport chaos (never happened) and the threat of nuclear atrocity on our doorstep because of warheads parked nearby (didn’t happen either). Outside the capital, concerns were aesthetic.
Last year, Muse frontman Matt Bellamy announced the band's sixth album would be a "Christian gangsta-rap jazz odyssey, with some ambient rebellious dubstep and face-melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia". It tells you something about Muse that it was hard to work out exactly how far his tongue was lodged in his cheek. For one thing, it's almost always difficult to work out how far Bellamy's tongue is lodged in his cheek, as when he told NME he believed in the theories of Zecharia Sitchin, whose big idea was that the human race had been genetically engineered by aliens from the planet Nibiru, or cancelled a series of US interviews on the grounds that he'd heard an asteroid was about to hit America.
I pity those of you who don’t ‘get’ Muse. Yeah, you with your arched eyebrows, staring at your monitor with a look of disdain, fully prepared to fire up DiS for some hilarious destruction of a band too big not to epic fail. If you want that, this here internet is full of it. Fill your boots ….
So, here's what we made of that. Have Muse done a Bond theme yet? Because the opening track on ‘The 2nd Law’ could easily be one. Just an observation. Anyway, on their sixth album, the Teignmouth trio have flouted the rulebook once again, and although its mish-mash what’s-a-genre-anyway? approach might not sit well for those who are yearning for a return to their more conventional ‘Showbiz’ sound, it’s far from the dubstep-infused travesty we all feared.
The sixth studio release by Brit rockers Muse is a classic case of art vs. science. The name of the album, The 2nd Law, in fact refers to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which theorizes that over time, the differences in temperature, pressure, and chemical potential of an equilibriated system can destroy the system itself. Could Muse be inferring something with the title? .
Late last year, Matt Bellamy jokingly described Muse’s new album as “christian gangsta rap jazz odyssey, with some ambient rebellious dubstep and face melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia.” Little did we know that the resulting record, The 2nd Law would be far closer to that statement than thought possible. This is Muse’s kitchen sink record. Does it work? Ehhhh….
The second law of thermodynamics is often called upon to explain the state of teenagers' bedrooms. ("Entropy," sigh the parents knowingly, as the bedroom, tidied only yesterday, once again tends towards chaos and decay.) Matt Bellamy, frontman of Muse, a singer prone to entertaining apocalyptic scenarios, was apparently watching the BBC at some point during the economic crisis when the second law became real to him. The second law may formally concern the waste of energy inside a closed system, but it can be applied widely – to teenagers' bedrooms and other systems as well.
Throughout their career, it's always been clear that Muse aren't satisfied to just do the same thing over and over again, as they have evolved from their early days when they were (perhaps unfairly) pigeonholed as a Radiohead imitator into purveyors of some of the most epic symphonic rock since Queen graced the stage. On their sixth album, The 2nd Law, they continue to shake things up, diving deeper into the electronic rabbit hole as they experiment with a sound that's less reliant on Matthew Bellamy's guitar heroics, resulting in an album that's a bit of a mixed bag. Incorporating some of the slickest production the band has ever had with a more synth-heavy sound, the album certainly succeeds in feeling different from Muse's previous work.
Muse’s Summer Olympics anthem, ”Survival,” summed up the British prog-rockers perfectly. Full of violent guitar shredding and theatrical pomp, it combined the band’s art-school proclivities with so much epic ”Bohemian Rhapsody” bombast it could make a Bulgarian shot-putter cry. When Muse first broke nearly a decade ago, they were a lean, streamlined goth-glam act.
When Muse released the "trailer" for The 2nd Law, it was the kind of preemptive shock tactic you typically expect from a record that has a lot riding on it. "MUSE GOES DUBSTEP!!!" created a minor firestorm, albeit one that was containable because it was utterly predictable. Of course Muse fans would storm the YouTube comment section with bloodthirsty vengeance.
If Muse somehow became giants that played neon-colored Ferrari’s as instruments, their sound still wouldn’t be as big as they’d always dreamed. Barring freak magic accidents, the trio will have to continue with Plan A: giving every fiber of their collective being to become the new Queen even as they recognize the sheer impossibility. In spirit, their sixth album, The 2nd Law, is another step in that journey, combining over-the-top rock anthems with more linear EDM influences.
The label “prog” has been thrown around a lot in discussions of Muse, but if their progression up to this point has taught us anything, it’s that the alt-rock youngsters with stadium ambitions back in 1997 really haven’t changed much since then. They’ve dressed themselves up in all sorts of costumes, mostly to accommodate their continually growing arena shows, but when stripped down to their most basic elements there isn’t much “prog” to be found. Unfairly accused of being Radiohead clones with their early LPs like Origin of Symmetry (mostly having to do with lead singer Matt Bellamy’s uncanny vocal resemblance to Thom Yorke), Muse have proven themselves to be, if anything, the anti-Radiohead.
Intergalactic rockers return with a typically outlandish sixth album. Ian Winwood 2012 One of the most remarkable characteristics regarding Muse, themselves an entirely remarkable band, is the sheer speed at which many of their songs are recognised as being classic compositions of the grandest order. A track like 2006’s exquisitely bonkers Knights of Cydonia could only have been of their making.
"There's still a few of them left" thought Matt Bellamy bitterly as he surveyed the Reading Festival crowd in 2011, dark thoughts rudely interrupting the throbbing swell in his trousers brought on by shocks from the Kaoss pad crudely fitted to the front of his Manson guitar. That was how he reasoned it to the rest of Muse anyway; in reality this on-stage physical manifestation of his undisclosed desires came from an overpowering sense of self-satisfaction, of the knowledge that, five years after he broke into John Deacon's home and stole the last untampered bottle of Essence of Bulsara's Legacy for 2006's 'Knights Of Cydonia', he was still getting away with the slurry-filled repackaging of some of rock's more grandiose moments with current flavours of the month and passing it off as invention. Not just getting away with it either; Muse were flourishing.