Wednesday, September 26, 2012

REVIEW: "The 2nd Law" - Muse

I've been hesitant to write a review for this album since it's so dense, but I've finally decided, after 5 digital spins, that I have enough of an opinion formed to really give this one a fair take.

"The 2nd Law" is the sixth studio album by English rockers Muse, known by most as an over-the-top arena rock group that bears similarities to groups as varied as Radiohead, Queen, U2, David Bowie, and the London Philharmonic, and that trend of eclecticism and experimentation continues on this new release to great effect. The 2nd Law contains everything from Orchestral music to Arena Rock to Funk to Metal to, yes, even Dubstep. For someone looking for a rehash of their (relatively) simplistic earlier rock albums, they will be utterly disappointed, but for those looking for what could quite possibly be the most original, challenging, and interesting release of 2012 thusfar, you are in for a treat!

Going track by track:

"Supremacy" opens things up in a grandiose, swagger-filled fashion with a slow rocker that could very easily be a Bond movie theme song. While lyrically weak (but was that ever Muse's strong suit?), the tune manages to get into your head and stay put for hours on end; it was the first song from the album to get stuck in my head, even after listening to the other 12 tracks in sequence afterwards.

"Madness" is the current single tearing up the airwaves and for good reason. I thought it was good when I first heard it, but hearing it in the context of the album (particularly following the bombast of Supremacy) makes it at least a dozen times better. Catchiest thing I've heard all year while still managing to have an odd structure and plenty of electronic experimentation (in the most tasteful way possible)

"Panic Station" has gotten a LOT of comparisions to Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust", but I would contend that it bears more similarities to the early tracks from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and to "Innervisions"-era Stevie Wonder. The song brings the funk without ever sounding corny (well, at least the BAD kind of crony). On my first spin, it was one of my standout tracks though upon subsequent listens, it's taken a backseat to some of the less straight-forward tunes.

"Prelude" is a brief orchestral intro to the following track. Muse does it fabulously as always.

"Survival" was the first single and the official song of the 2012 Olympic Games, and boy did it receive a mixed bag of reviews! For me, even though it might have some of the most abysmal lyrics to ever stain a Muse album, the pure filth of the music more than makes up for it, resulting in one of the most overdone (and excellent) singles of the year. Plus, THAT FALSETTO.

"Follow Me" is quite the eclectic tune, featuring some of that classic Muse sound (present on "Absolution", specifically) as well as some new electronic dance music and some gorgeous closing chords reminiscent of U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name". This one was a stunner the first time I heard it and continues to be a standout on each repeat listen.

"Animals" is a pleaser for the old guard of Muse fans who liked it better when the band stuck to songs that sounded more like "The Bends"-era Radiohead. I thoroughly enjoyed the song, though it could've definitely gone to some incredible places if the band had been willing to compromise that "old fan" appeal.

"Explorers" is about the most forgettable track on the album for me as it meanders along a (LONG) 5:47. The song has few interesting developments, but as atmosphere, it works quite nicely.

"Big Freeze" sounds like U2 with lyrics straight out of Vonnegut's novel "Cat's Cradle". Just a bit of lighthearted fun before the ultra-heavy closing numbers. Not a standout, but still a strong song.

"Save Me" surprised me greatly as not only a phenomenal tune, but also as THE standout of the whole album. Chris Wolstenhome's deeply personal lyrics and vocals are layered over a lush atmosphere of swirling synths and beautiful guitars which all culminate to create one of the most heartfelt and gorgeous songs this band (and indeed any band to release an album this year!) has ever released. And add to that the fact that it has continued to get more and more notable with each subsequent listen.

"Liquid State" is Wolstenholme's second song detailing his alcoholism and looks at the same problem from a completely new lens. It functions strongly as a counterpoint to the preceding track as well as providing a strong track of Muse-style heavy metal. While not as strong as Wolstenholme's other song, Liquid State is a vital component of this album.

"The 2nd Law: Unsustainable" is THE dubstep track of the album. This track shocked and amazed me upon first listen around a month ago and it continues to fascinate with each repeat. It's a showcase of the band's eccentricities as well as proof that this band is willing to go literally anywhere with their music. Even if it isn't the "best" dubstep out there, this song solidifies itself as a highlight sheerly for its shock value and originality.

"The 2nd Law: Isolated System" is the perfect finale to the album, closing out with a tense calmness that somehow manages to have more thematic meaning and depth than anything that comes before it (with the exception of, perhaps, "Save Me"). Layers of strings, with a pulsing dance beat, spliced news broadcasts, and a breathtaking minimalistic piano line make this yet another standout in a sea of excellence.

 All things considered, Muse has crafted what I can easily say is their finest album to date. By blending the familiar with the new and shocking, and not being afraid to embrace other genres alongside their established influences, the band has created what could be a bold step in a new direction for this fantastic group. I await further music with barely contained excitement.


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