Muse - The 2nd Law
Muse has grown as a band over fifteen years and six albums, a transformation starting with 2003's Absolution. The signs are all there on Origin Of Symmetry but the lack of focus, and talent to take the material and huge arrangements to the 'next level' plague the album continuously. So through Black Holes and Revelations and The Resistance, Muse arrive at The 2nd Law. And what a chaotic, glorious mess of an album it is.
Opener Supremacy is a bond theme without the film to go with it, and sets the early tone - that of power and holding on to it, Madness is Queen's I Want To Break Free with a majestic choral finale, and Panic Station is a pop-funk mash-up of Thriller and Scissor Sisters. So far, so Muse. After this audacious start is The 2nd Law's key track - the one minute orchestral Prelude, which after the opening trilogy, presses a reset button and seems to be there to introduce the album 'proper'. This starts with Survival, which was the official song of the London 2012 Summer Olympics; badly-judged - over aggressive and sinister, conjuring images of a malevolent despot struggling to keep order and control over a nation. On 2nd Law it works only to enhance the sense of oppression, menace and power - pomp and overblown production aside - but still remains one of the album's weaker moments.
From here, The 2nd Law settles down into a decent rock album. Follow Me stays just the right side of camp disco - like Jeff Buckley's take on I Will Survive as remixed by a youthful Trent Reznor, interrupted by Bono. The guitar work on Animals is especially good, as is Matthew Bellamy's vocals. Explorers is also great, a bit Black Star (Radiohead) with delicious backing vocals. Bellamy is again superb on Big Freeze, even if it's not one of the album's strongest moments while Save Me is a real surprise. Lead vocals for this, and following song Liquid State (kicking off like Ministry and ending up as something completely new), are handed to bassist Chris Wolstenholme, transforming Muse into a new band and two cracking performances. And the closing title track, a two-part electro-experiment of buzzes, clicks, robotic vocals and samples, fused with gorgeous piano and strings, is also Bellamy-free. This is bizarre, downbeat and serious, yet fitting, end to The 2nd Law - an album that starts with no identity and becomes something unique and interesting.
Far from a triumph, The 2nd Law is many other things. It is a three-track EP from a band on form doing other people's songs, more in tribute than parody; then a superb rock-pop album and some of the best guitar-work and vocals from the band; then Muse being something else: a new identity, a difference; before a well-meaning eco-propaganda prog-rock finale. No other band is attempting this with such brazen confidence, the level of sophisticated musicianship, and ultimate success.