Album Review: Muse – “The 2nd Law” (Helium 3/Warner)

10/05/2012

The 2nd Law is the sixth studio album from legendary alternative rock band, Muse. One would expect an overwhelming excitement from fans, truth is many of them are proceeding with caution because of the band’s new artistic direction. An apocalyptic like album trailer released back in early June roused their faithful fans to this uncertain conclusion, and they even included the caveat, “…the electric beat at the end is made of bass, guitar and a drum kit! No computer thing, so it’s not dubstep.” So what is it? “Rockstep?”

Recorded entirely in London, the 13-track assortment features an abnormal opening line on “Supremacy,” that exclaims, “Wake to see, your true emancipation is a fantasy.” Muse’s inspiration derived from their formal offer to write the title track for the new James Bond film, Skyfall. Instead, Adele eventually won that honor and the group still feels somewhat bitter about missing out on the opportunity.

The introductory lyrics are fairly ambiguous in nature, so it is unclear why the band gets particularly offended when people misinterpret their intentions. They turned down requests to use it for other purposes. A few months ago, Muse fervently criticized a conservative radio host for using their previous single, “Uprising,” in right-wing conspiracy theorist videos on YouTube. They had to turn down requests by numerous America politicians on a regular basis asking for permission to use the energetic rally song in their campaign gatherings. When speaking about the new album, lead singer Matt Bellamy recently quibbled, “…making music is an expression of feelings of helplessness and lack of control that I think a lot of people can relate to.”

The alternative rock band worked with Canadian-American composer David Campbell (and father of singer-songwriter, Beck), who previously helped with Radiohead’s “15 Step” and U2′s Broadway musical, Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, to enhance (read: augment) the band’s entire album with an orchestral score.

At times, the orchestra’s emotive effects stretch tracks to epic new levels, while in other instances the ensembles’ rigid structure evokes feelings of an unwelcome rock gospel. The track, “Survival,” is a bit too intense and sounds more like screams, while the second-to-last track on the record, “Unsustainable,” is admittedly dubstep-influenced and also one of the less appreciative examples as well. Bellamy insists:

“I wanted to write the idea electronically and then when we came to record it we did it with real, organic instruments and we got a real orchestra in. We were trying to see if real instruments could make a sound like electronica. A lot of people were skeptical about it but it works.”

While it is not entirely clear if that truly does work, “Follow Me,” seems to blast the appropriate amount of both passion and harmony. Muse provided a thoughtful explanation: “The thing about dubstep is it’s really heavy. When it really kicks and the bass drops, it’s like heavy metal with these big build-ups and a big riff that kicks in.”

The tune, “Panic Station,” has welcoming vibes that remind me of the Red Hot Chili Peppers because of the plucking of the bass guitar that sounds distinctly similar to Flea’s notorious style. Chris Wolstenholme contributes lead vocals for the first time ever on tracks, “Save Me” and “Liquid State.” “Animals” and its seemingly surf-guitar sounds can most likely be considered the most political song on the album. Drummer Don Howard adamantly confirmed, “It’s aimed at the bankers and people who gambled everyone’s money and ended up putting countries in debt.” The lead single, “Madness,” is and by far the best that the band has to offer, and interestingly, the subject of the song “is the to-ing and fro-ing in a relationship. It just came out of a little spat and fight” between Matt Bellamy and his lover, Kate Hudson.

For a band that acknowledged that they were taking a few risks with their new album, the British gang of rockers truthfully exceed expectations given the early uncertainty and persistent cynicism from fans. Lesson learned is to never again doubt this archetypal rock band. Clearly, they can clearly still bring it, even when breaking new musical boundaries. The 2nd Law was made available worldwide on October 1.

Track Listings:
1. Supremacy
2. Madness
3. Panic Station
4. Survival (Prelude)
5. Survival
6. Follow Me
7. Animals
8. Explorers
9. Big Freeze
10. Save Me
11. Liquid State
12. The 2nd Law: Unsustainable
13. The 2nd Law: Isolated System