Album: The 2nd Law
Label: Helium 3, Warner
Genre: Alternative rock
With The 2nd Law, Muse have released their 6th studio album. The album contained the single “Survival”, the official song of the 2012 London Olympic games. Exploring the boundaries of different musical genres, dwelling in psychedelic melancholia, and then fiercely flaring up again into up-tempo alternative rock, The 2nd Law is a very diverse album.
The main theme of the album is the second law of thermodynamics, which they describe on “Unsustainable” as:
“All natural and technological processes proceed in such a way that the availability of the remaining energy decreases. In all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves an isolated system, the entropy of that system increases. Energy continuously flows from being concentrated, to becoming dispersed, spread out, wasted, and useless. New energy cannot be created and high-grade energy is being destroyed”
The second law of thermodynamics is used by Muse as a metaphor to describe how our unsustainable lifestyle is emptying our resources and racing our planet into serious trouble.
When listening to the album, references to David Bowie, Queen, and hints of Skrillex can be clearly distinguished. Matthew Bellamy tweeted his description of the album as:
“christian gangsta rap jazz odyssey, with some ambient rebellious dubstep and face-melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia”
and that description probably still misses a few references to other genres. And hence we come to my main point of criticism: this album tries to do so much that the general lines become blurred at times and you're mostly hearing fragments of different styles, but end up losing sight of the overall music that is written.
The album opens with rich orchestration, deep bass-lines, sonorous vocals that creep into a falsetto on “Supremacy”, and is followed by the poppy, dub-step inspired “Madness”, which was released as the second single of the The 2nd Law. “Panic Station” has an 80s, Michael Jackson vibe to it, mixed with Mika-like vocals. The explicit lyrics on “Panic Station” resulted on a Parental Advisory sticker for the album.
As Muse are proud of their quirks, the “Prelude” of the album is the 4th track – an orchestral Hollywoodesque composition, that flows into the first single “Survival”, which sounds like a musical (Andrew Lloyd Webber 's style of song-building) with operette (the cheesy choir in the back) and second hand stadium rock – I'm not convinced of this combination.
The melancholic verse of “Follow me” captures my attention, but the chorus is too fast-paced (with too many
synthesizer lines that bring nervousness) to hold the feeling. On the 7th track “Animals” Muse show that they do know how to keep that feeling of post-psychedelic hung-over or stoned melancholia. Stripped off too many influences, this track is a highlight of the album – although filled with changes in tempo, this song grooves.
The second half of the album is by far the more interesting half. “Explorers” feels like a matured lullaby, after which “Big Freeze” with it's U2 sound brings some solid pop-rock. “Save Me” is again bringing the feelings associated to the theme of the album: despair and melancholia – in a convincing and touching way. “Liquid State” is a prog metal-oriented song (I hear Dream Theater) on the album, and describes the struggles of Chris Wolstenholme with his alcohol addiction.
The final two tracks are brilliantly composed songs that are centered around the theme of The 2nd Law. Rich in orchestration, using spoken word and vocals in all their diversity, and with dub-step electronics over it, these tracks grabbed my attention at first listen, and stand out after several spins of this record. After all combinations and electronics, the piano line that opens “The 2nd Law Isolated System” brings a moment of pure relaxation and rest to the album.
In short, when Muse don't overdo their efforts in combining different styles, some interesting songs result, especially in the second half of the album.
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