Review: Muse – The 2nd Law
Published on October 3rd, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
That Muse are an extraordinarily gifted group of musicians is beyond question, but great talent has not always been conducive to great music. Their default setting of histrionic melodrama makes them a thrilling live proposition, but on record it can weary, even infuriate, in a manner which arguably bears more comparison with someone like Meat Loaf than, say, such apparent influences as Radiohead and Queen. Strange bedfellows, those latter two, and if Muse were to be positioned somewhere between them then there ought to be a pretty drastic sag in the middle.
No Muse album will ever pass without its breathtaking moments, but equally they seem unlikely to ever conjure the kind of bolt from the blue their bountiful ambition no doubt aspires to. There are good songs, and there are very good songs: Muse are sporadically capable of both, but can you imagine them dropping a “Paranoid Android” or “Bohemian Rhapsody”? Something so totally out of the left field that it blows imaginations wide open and pretty much defies comparisons, something that leaves the competition trailing hopelessly in its wake? No, and in this light their epic prog tendencies feel like they’re compensating for the stone-cold classic they don’t quite have in them.
In other hands, the big, stomping would-be James Bond theme of opening track “Supremacy” might be a blast; coming from Muse, however, it just feels like an excitable game of GoldenEye on the N64. We know what they’re capable of; we’ve heard it before, and the only conceivable forms of progression from there would be to either change tack completely, or match the bombast blow-for-blow with some kind of imaginative narrative, or (dare we say it) concept. As it is, we just get more of the same apocalyptic sloganeering that shoots for the imperious but lands closer to the vacuous, unable to imbue the admittedly impressive musical set-pieces with anything truly meaningful. It’s a Michael Bay movie, basically.
The 2nd Law does sporadically attempt a change of tack, but it’s the same thing each time: single “Madness” comes across a bit like a dubstep remix of George Michael’s “Faith”, which sounds a lot more fun than what happens here. This concession to wob wob wob-dom not only brings to mind a bullet-sprayed barrel load of fish but is repeated on “Follow Me” and the semi-instrumental “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable”, two rather aptly titled numbers in the circumstances.
There are of course some fine moments – the ELO-esque piano and Greek chorus backing vocals of “Survival” add up to something delightfully barmy, while “Big Freeze” is an admirable display of songwriting, even if it does sound a bit like the Manic Street Preachers’ “You Stole the Sun From My Heart” in places – but the relentless grandiosity makes it a tough listen from start to finish, and one that bares itself too instantly to reward the hard work.
Muse are to be admired from a distance, like an impressively put together piece of visual art, but it’s hard to suppress the notion that, six albums in, they should have found a second mood by now.
Rocksucker says: Two and a Half Quails out of Five!
The 2nd Law is out now on Warner Brothers. For more information, please visit muse.mu