Album Review: Muse – The 2nd Law by Nathan Brooks

English rock band Muse’s 2009 album The Resistance blew everyone’s heads off. It’s a masterclass in stadium shaking bombast. Every track makes me want to go to the houses of parliament and punch the nearest politician in the nose. How on earth they were going to top it was beyond anybody. So their sixth studio album,The 2nd Law (released in 2012), had a lot to live up to.

Instead of trying to outdo The Resistance, Muse went in a slightly different direction. They did produce more of the progressive/symphonic rock from that album. However, they also chose to elaborate on the brief dip into electronic music provided by the third track Undisclosed Desires. The result is easily their most unique and subversive album to date. Which is fitting, considering how much Muse like to challenge the status quo.

Album Review: Muse – The 2nd Law

Is it any good, though? I think it is, in a weird way. The bizarre mixture of insane Muse-iness and experimental electronica doesn’t make for a very consistent album. But I like its daring attitude and courage to be totally different. Take Madness, the second track on the album. It’s like a slower tempo, more avant-garde version of Queen’s I Want to Break Free. Running throughout the track is a vocal riff going “Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-madness”, imitating a baby calling for its mother. It’s nothing like anything Muse has done before.

Supremacy, the track before Madness, is more like The Resistance. It’s an awesome symphonic rock piece that can join Radiohead’s Spectre in the hall of songs that should have been Bond themes. After Madness, we have Panic Station. I honestly think this might be my favourite Muse song ever. It’s so unique, featuring a gloriously funky (and relentlessly cheesy) bassline and an infectiously enjoyable chorus. It’s a guilty pleasure, admittedly, as objectively the most impressive thing they’ve done is the epic Exogenesis: Symphony. But I just can’t help but love Panic Station.

Lyrically, more effort is needed

We have a quick 57 second prelude (ingeniously named Prelude) that flows into their London 2012 theme Survival. Musically, it’s perfect for the games. There’s strange, ambient chanting that instantly make you think of ancient Greece. Lyrically, however, I think they could have put in a bit more effort. “Life is a race” isn’t the most unique metaphor ever. The rest of it’s just Matt Bellamy singing “I’m gonna win” over and over. Follow Me injects more experimental sounds into the album, and is a solid attempt at electronic dance music. I like it a lot, and I hate EDM.

Animals has some very attention grabbing, flamenco-y guitar on it. Bellamy’s vocals have this pseudo-in-control sound, like he’s about to break with rage at any point. You can hear an angry mob shouting in the background, emphasising the anti capitalist lyrics, a common Muse trope. Explorers is another symphonic track, with a beautiful, violin populated composition. Bellamy’s vocals are again reminiscent of Queen. This time sounding like a more sedate Don’t Stop Me Now.

Muse’s most sincere and personal tracks ever

Big Freeze has a blatant U2 vibe which, contrary to popular opinion, is a good thing in my book. It’s very similar to Pride (In the Name of Love). The two tracks that follow are written and sung by bassist Chris Wolstenholme about his alcoholism. Save Me and Liquid State are easily Muse’s most sincere and personal tracks ever. The former is a beautiful tribute to Wolstenholme’s family, and how they’ve always stood by him. The latter is a much darker song that explores what happens to Wolstenholme when drink gets the better of him. It’s really quite harrowing.

The album’s grand finale, The 2nd Law, is served in two parts: Unsustainable and Isolated System. The first starts off as an epic symphonic piece, with an orchestra and a choir. An audio track of a news reporter begins, leading into the experimental dubstep part of the song. I love it. Not least because it’s all performed through actual instruments. Isolated System is a more minimalist arrangement, featuring random news samples halfway through (one of them being Nigel Farage on the EU). It’s a nice change of pace that rounds of the album on a contrasting, sombre note.

The 2nd Law is a bit of a mess. It’s nowhere near as consistent and accomplished as Origin of Symmetry. It also never tops The Resistance in the spectacle department. What it does do is leave the listener baffled, intrigued, and entertained all at the same time. And it does this better than any other Muse album to date.