Muse Returns!

Posted by Sandstorm in Music, Reviews on September 25th, 2012.
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An absurdly biased review of the new Muse album The 2nd Law, written by a pretty hardcore fan.

Everybody who spends more than 10 minutes in a conversation with me gets to know one thing: I am a Muse fan in a way that’s nearly unhealthy.

My love affair with this band began in late 2006 when a friend of my brother provided us with an illegal best-of collection. At the time I was very much into classical music and besides from some J-rock anime themes and some old classics I didn’t really care for rock. But then Muse came along and showed me a whole different aspect of the phenomenon we call music. They showed me how music can be both catchy and intelligent, how classical music can exist outside of the classical realm and, most of all, what the word Epic means. I bought all their albums and managed to see them live at Pinkpop 2007, an experience that changed my life even further. They became the primary reason why I shifted my focus from the relatively restricted realm of classical music to the free realm of Rock, Jazz and metal. In the process I even exchanged my viola for a guitar. Since Pinkpop I’ve seen them live an additional 6 times both in the Netherlands and abroad with their Reading 2011 gig as ultimate highlight.

As you can tell, they are very special and dear to me.

Was this period of devout fandom without any doubt? No. As I primarily enjoy songs from the Origin of Symmetry and Absolution eras, their album The Resistance wasn’t my thing. Sure, I loved it when it came out, but after seeing them live that many times, it became clear that the newer songs (Uprising, Undisclosed Desires, Guiding Light and Resistance) became the weak and ultimately boring moments in the set. That album was a step in a direction that was opposite to the one my taste was developing into and the record is now basically a dust-collector.

You can understand my high anticipation for The 2nd Law it would confirm if this trend would continue. So, let’s take a look shall we?


A new beginning           

Unfortunately for me it seems that the step taken in The Resistance was the start of quite an elaborate journey. While album opener Supremacy is epic in the Muse kind of way, it also has one of the same issues some songs from the Resistance era suffer from. It sounds full, but empty at the same time. The wall of sound is gone. While the clearly James Bond influenced song in itself isn’t that bad (the riff is pretty good) it never reaches the heights of the great songs like New Born and Stockholm Syndrome, partly because of the strange sound-mix and partly because of the vocals. They sound off, an issue we will encounter in some other songs later on as well.

Madness is one of my personal highlights of the album. When it first came out it totally wasn’t like anything I expected. It shocked me… in a positive way. Clearly influenced by Queen’s I want to Break Free, U2 and George Michael, the song is drastically different from anything Muse has produced before. It’s minimalistic (the first two minutes at least), groovy and above all, very electronic. Topped off with beautiful, subtle chorus, this song shows that a new poppy Muse isn’t all bad news. In fact, it was Madness that made me look forward to this album with positive excitement.

The vocal troubles return though with the funky dancefloor banger Panic Station. While the instrumental part of the song is über catchy, the vocals unfortunately feel a bit forced. In contrast to the old, long stretched melodies of yore, this song features a quick upbeat style of singing, something that doesn’t seem to come naturally to Matt. This results in a cool, but pretty awkward song. It has a lot of live potential though and I’m looking forward to see how that plays out.

A somewhat kitschy prelude then leads into a familiar song. The official 2012 Olympics’ song Survival is Muse having a lot of fun in their familiar over-the-top rock style. The Nero produced Follow Me then blasts through the speakers and again shows the band covering new ground with a more dance-orientated song. An attempt that unfortunately is ultimately flawed due to, again, strange vocals that this time mimic Bono.

Luckily the next song proved to me that they still got it. While Animals still is a bit different than their former work, this song probably is the most old-school muse song on the album as well and one of my favorites. Featuring laid back bluesy/jazzy guitar lines, it made me reminisce the Origin of Symmetry era so much that I brand this song Screenager v2.0. However, this song suffers from something that is my second biggest gripe with this album after the vocals: the lack of big epic endings. At the end of the song a great build-up riff pops-up, preparing us for a big drop which never follows. Two other songs suffer from the same problem that in the end puts a big dent into the overall experience.

Next is a song that is going to be either hated or loved, just like the fan-dividing Neutron Star Collision. Channeling a kitschy musical vibe, Explorers sports a strangely familiar but beautifully flowing melody, a production that fits perfectly and vocals that for once work. All of this results in a real highlight on the album in all its kitschy glory.

Then unfortunately U2’s guest performance sets in. The guitar solo is quite nice, but the Bono’ing eventually ruins Big Freeze. Yeah. If only Muse had never toured with U2…

Bassist Chris Wolstenholme’s debut as lead singer Save Me fortunately is, while drastically different from the Muse we know, another example how change can work for this band.  With a voice that sounds a bit like Steven Wilson’s (from the band Porcupine Tree), Chris leads us through a dreamy soundscape towards his second song, Liquid State.

That song is a bit of a mixed bag. While I like the style of singing very much and really like the heavier and more proggy sound, the song is FAR too short, and, just like Supremacy and The Resistance’s Unnatural Selection, feels really empty. The worst part though is that this is the second song that abruptly ends after yet another build-up riff. It pains me to imagine how great it would have been if only they would have added a great guitar solo or an epic ending riff.

The 2nd Law: Unsustainable and Isolated System are also two songs that suffer from the unfulfilled potential they bear. Though loathed by many, the dubstep drops in the former are pretty good and it’s a shame they didn’t vary them more during the second drop. The latter of the two is the last of the trilogy of songs that feature a beautiful build-up of epic proportions only to die off just before it reaches the height of its potential.


Escaping from their own entropy…

Muse made an album on which they left their old and trusted style behind to explore new avenues of music in order grow as a band. An understandable choice given the fact that rehashing the same formula over and over again only results in second tier versions of the same old hits, something that happened with some songs on The Resistance. Maybe that’s the Entropy that they refer to in the title. They needed to escape from their musical "isolated system" to keep growing as a band. Or that’s just me being all philosophical about nothing

While a lot of the songs are pretty flawed, the new direction shows enough potential that with a bit of a polish Muse could soar to new, great heights and if the aforementioned trilogy of songs ended in big epic riff-outs, I would’ve called this a great record. As it is now, I would call it a decent one.

Now it only remains to be seen how these songs play out in a live setting and, even if this isn’t the Muse I fell in love with 6 years ago, for that I cannot wait.

Click Here to hear the album for yourself!


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