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Muse - The 2nd Law Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 6.5
Musicianship 6.5
Lyrics 6.5
Production 6.5
Creativity 6.5
Lasting Value 6.5
Reviewer Tilt 6.5
Final Verdict: 65%
Member Ratings
Vocals 7.73
Musicianship 7.95
Lyrics 5.4
Production 6.6
Creativity 7.13
Lasting Value 6.35
Reviewer Tilt 6.83
Average: 69%
Inside AP.net

Muse - The 2nd Law

Reviewed by: Craig Manning (12/03/12)
Muse - The 2nd Law
Release Date: September 28, 2012
Record Label: Helium 3/Warner


I’ve personally never really cared for Muse, either in regards to their bombastic arrangements or to singer Matt Bellamy’s endlessly histrionic wailings. And it’s not that the band’s fusion of Queen, Radiohead, electronica, and classical music is particularly off-putting, but rather that their albums, especially 2003’s Absolution (considered by many to be their best) grow exhausting in their attempt to keep the emotional intensity at a fever pitch throughout.

It is in this relatively neutral state that I come to Muse’s latest record, an ambitious, pseudo-conceptual piece called The 2nd Law, which, in its 53-minute runtime, wanders from a 007-flavored introduction (echoes of the famous spy theme float through the background of “Supremacy”), to imitations of Achtung Baby-era U2 (the album’s first single, “Madness,” is a dead-ringer for many of that 1991 album’s big dance-rock hits), all the way to a bizarre dubstep suite (the two-part title track, which encompasses segments called “Unsustainable” and “Isolated System.”)

Make no mistake, this is an ambitious record, an album that flits between styles and sounds with no warning whatsoever. The versatility is welcome, of course, but for some (die-hard fans yearning for the band’s initial sound, most likely), the shifts will prove jarring and almost laughably self-serious. Case-in-point is “Panic Station,” an infectious piece of funk-pop that lands somewhere between Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, or “Survival,” which starts out sounding like a freaking Mika song, adds a baroque choir within the first minute, and bursts apart with a Queen-sized guitar solo halfway through—all without the slightest trace of irony.

The 2nd Law is at its best when the band tones down those indulgences. “Madness” is a perfect example of this, surrounding listeners with an atmospheric back-up vocal groove and allowing Bellamy a chance to drop his usual over-emotive tendencies in favor of his best Bono impersonation. When a funky and spontaneous guitar solo crushes through the texture towards the end of the song, the feeling is both quirky and euphoric.

The U2 influence rears its head again on “Big Freeze,” another nostalgic eighties/nineties radio rock hybrid which parallels Achtung Baby’s deep album tracks just as “Madness” reaches for its singles. Considering the still-fascinating qualities of U2’s most successful musical left turn (an album that celebrated its 20th birthday last fall), it’s no wonder that Muse turned to Achtung for inspiration as they cultivated their own grand departure. Bellamy and company joined U2 on tour last year for the 360 tour (the most successful concert tour in history), and clearly, they took a few things away from that experience.

“Follow Me” is another one of the album’s strongest cuts, beginning with a spacious gospel-flavored vocal solo, transforming into a dance-pop disco swirl (complete with a driving beat and a wall of synthesizers), and climaxing with a ringing guitar cascade that would make the Edge himself proud. “Animals,” on the other hand, puts everything in reverse, an atmospheric keyboard-based number which re-states the band’s prevalent Radiohead influence and which, cut across by a nicely spacey electric guitar line, feels positively otherworldly.

Results are decidedly more mixed when Bellamy hands writing (and singing) duties off to bassist Christopher Wolstenholme on the album’s penultimate duo, “Save Me” and “Liquid State.” The former is a hazy, dreamy piece of nineties balladry, readymade for a climactic moment in some cinematic romance. The song feels notably out of place on The 2nd Law, with decidedly earthbound ambitions and an overall sound that genuinely feels like a different band. Still, the change-up is welcome, and “Save Me,” with its lovelorn sweep and its gorgeously swelling arrangement, is one of the best surprises here. The grungy scratch of “Liquid State” falls completely on the other end of the spectrum, functioning, at its best, as a less effective version of “Supremacy” and, at its worst, like a piece of turn-of-the-century alternative rock (Three Days Grace and Staind certainly come to mind).

Muse’s overblown ambitions reach the point of hubristic downfall on the album’s grand finale, the aforementioned two-part title track. Part I, “Unsustainable,” never feels like anything more than an experiment gone wrong, mixing orchestral elements with robotic sounds, dubstep explosions, and Bellamy’s overdramatic cries. Part II, “Isolated System,” works out a little better, with a ringing, minimalistic piano intro hinting at a climatic build. Unfortunately, the song never makes good on that promise: Muse add in some electronic distractions towards the end, but on the whole, the composition never does anything the least bit exciting, and it serves as a disappointing fade-out to an uneven and often frustrating album.

But even despite the fact that The 2nd Law burns out two-thirds of the way through, it’s not a bad album. I applaud a band, especially one with as much mainstream publicity as Muse, willing to go as off-the-wall crazy as they do on this record. The 2nd Law is the sound of one of the world’s biggest rock bands throwing everything at the canvas and seeing what sticks, a band giving themselves over to their indulgences and influences without reservation or pulled punch throughout. That mentality doesn’t always beget the best albums, and it certainly doesn’t create the most cohesive ones (see The Killers’ Day & Age), but it also rarely fails to deliver at least a few fascinating moments, and The 2nd Law has one or two of those up its sleeve. That an album like this (a band given budget and larger-than-life production values to indulge their every quirk and fancy) even exists in this modern age is interesting; that one can sell almost 130,000 copies in its first week is even more baffling.

And while Bellamy may have pointed towards Achtung Baby as his band’s primary influence here, The 2nd Law is more reminiscent of that album’s follow-up. 1993’s Zooropa remains, to this day, the most misunderstood album U2 ever made, a disjointed collection of pop songs that injected even more electronic influence into the band’s sound and wandered further from the mainstream than their label had ever anticipated. From its atmospheric nineties leanings to Bellamy’s consistently on-the-mark channeling of Bono, it’s not too hard to imagine The 2nd Law having a similar legacy ten or twenty years down the road: not a great album, but an adventurous one.

6.5/10

Additional InformationTrack Listing:

1. Supremacy
2. Madness
3. Panic Station
4. 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
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 21
09:06 AM on 12/03/12
#2
me7719
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I really enjoyed your review, I agree with most of it, would probably rate it a tad higher in the low to mid 70's range but overall it is an okay to solid album and much better than The Resistance in my opinion.
09:16 AM on 12/03/12
#3
georgedcc
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Great review, really well-written, even if I don't necessarily agree with all of it.

I'd argue that Survival is the only dud song on here and everything else is either solid or superb. The Chris led tracks are pretty decent, but it seems a little weird that 6 albums into their career they decide to let someone else have a go at singing. Survival aside, which is almost a Muse parody, I enjoy every song.
10:05 AM on 12/03/12
#4
jesse_hitz
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Good review. Personally i'd score it a mark higher at 7.5
10:39 AM on 12/03/12
#5
Craig Manning
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I really enjoyed your review, I agree with most of it, would probably rate it a tad higher in the low to mid 70's range but overall it is an okay to solid album and much better than The Resistance in my opinion.

Good review. Personally i'd score it a mark higher at 7.5

This could have easily been a 7, I just feel like myself and others around here tend to rate a lot of stuff in the 70s and 80s, to the point where I'm no longer really sure what a 7/10 means. Over the next year, I'm trying to be more discerning with my ratings, and that means exploring the spectrum a bit more than I have previously. Thanks for reading though!

Great review, really well-written, even if I don't necessarily agree with all of it.

I'd argue that Survival is the only dud song on here and everything else is either solid or superb. The Chris led tracks are pretty decent, but it seems a little weird that 6 albums into their career they decide to let someone else have a go at singing. Survival aside, which is almost a Muse parody, I enjoy every song.

Thanks man, I appreciate it.

Agree with "Survival" feeling like a parodic interpretation of Muse, but I'd add the two title tracks and "Liquid State" into the group of songs I don't care for. The rest, for me, is generally solid, with a few flashes of brilliance along the way. I very enjoyable record, to be sure, and an interesting one, but something I feel more likely to toss into my honorable mentions pile then on my favorite albums of the year list.
11:39 AM on 12/03/12
#6
jesse_hitz
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This could have easily been a 7, I just feel like myself and others around here tend to rate a lot of stuff in the 70s and 80s, to the point where I'm no longer really sure what a 7/10 means. Over the next year, I'm trying to be more discerning with my ratings, and that means exploring the spectrum a bit more than I have previously. Thanks for reading though!



Thanks man, I appreciate it.

Agree with "Survival" feeling like a parodic interpretation of Muse, but I'd add the two title tracks and "Liquid State" into the group of songs I don't care for. The rest, for me, is generally solid, with a few flashes of brilliance along the way. I very enjoyable record, to be sure, and an interesting one, but something I feel more likely to toss into my honorable mentions pile then on my favorite albums of the year list.
I look forward to reading more of your reviews. You seem to give things a chance and really explain your explanations really well of likes and dislikes. keep up the good work!
12:15 PM on 12/03/12
#7
RyanGarner
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I agree with this. Some pretty interesting parts on the album but Muse has never really done anything for me.
12:46 PM on 12/03/12
#8
avarice14
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The only song I can really get into off the album is Panic Station.
01:12 PM on 12/03/12
#9
kidwithhelmet
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Being a diehard fan, I hate that I agree with most of this review (aside from the intro and your thoughts about Muse as a whole). This album is incredibly disjointed, and there is a certain cheesy-ness factor to a handful of songs that take me out of the big picture. If I go and listen to a select track here and there I can handle it, but to go front to back is a chore.

Lyrically, Survival is a dud, and I can't get past it. The backing vocals in Big Freeze are cringe-worthy. Again, I just can't get past it. Loved the 3-part Exogenesis Symphony to close Reistance, but Unsustainable felt like a loop of the same 12 seconds and it ruined what could have been a fine closer in Isolated.

Props to a great read, Craig.
01:41 PM on 12/03/12
CokeorPepsi
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survival is actually my favorite song on this album
07:04 PM on 12/03/12
Helen Keller.
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Maybe it's the longtime Muse fan in me talking here, but 2 things:
1) I would've rated this album a 7.5 or 8. It's definitely not their best, but it's not a 6.5 album. There really aren't any weak songs in my opinion (with the exception of Explorers), but I agree it's nowhere near a cohesive, or even balanced, album.
2) The Radiohead argument again? Really? Showbiz is really the only album where that argument is valid, but they blew that out of the water on Origin. I can agree with most of this review, but that just kills it for me. Also, Animals really doesn't sound much like Radiohead at all.
05:47 PM on 12/06/12
Steeeve Perry
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Muse to me are amazingly talented musicians, but not talented songwriters.
07:50 AM on 12/07/12
Koushyar
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Here is my review of this album:
www.absolutepunk.net/showthread.php?t=2901492

Your review was great and I saw that we had same opinions about certain songs, but I just think 6.5 is a bit lower than what they deserve, especially considering that you gave Battleborn a 9. Apart from that, great ;)
11:05 AM on 12/07/12
TomWhaley
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As much as I love albums like "Origin" and "Absolution," I'm also all about progression. I would be disappointed if they were to keep rehashing those albums, although I love them. "Black Holes" was great too. I think "The Resistance" was their first step in the "eh" direction, and I was hoping that this album could pull them back in and redeem them. Nope. It seems like they're really trying to break through to the American radio audience. The few tracks that stood out (Supremacy, Madness, Animals, Survival) still felt like there was lots of room for improvement. A lot of the album was also just completely unoriginal. I'm all about paying tribute to your influences, but a lot of things on this album are just so blatant it becomes a distasteful rip-off. Although I don't think it's a terrible song, "Panic Station" really rubbed me the wrong way with Matt's blatant Freddie Mercury-isms, and that bassline... "Follow Me," the heartfelt tribute to his newly born son, sounds like a bad dubstep club banger. I'm sure we'll be hearing that one on commercials once we get sick of "Too Close." "Explorers" is already a Muse song: "Invincible." Seriously. Sing the chorus of "Invincible" on top of the chorus of "Explorers." The chord progression and half the vocal melody is nearly identical. Honestly, I liked the Wolstenholme led songs, but they still seemed lacking in some elements. "Big Freeze" blatantly sounds like U2 meets INXS. The last two tracks are pretty cool though.
I don't mean to rant, but I was looking forward to this album so badly, and it pretty much let me down from start to finish.
11:13 AM on 12/07/12
TomWhaley
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Muse to me are amazingly talented musicians, but not talented songwriters.
I actually feel the opposite. I don't feel like they're bad, or even mediocre, musicians, but I feel like their solid songwriting masks a lot of their talent. Bellamy, no doubt, is a great pianist, but I felt like he hides his guitar playing behind too many effects. Unlike Tom Morello, his "guitar and an amp" style playing isn't really extraordinary, so he masks it with over the top tricks. Wolstenholme is a a stand out bassist, and Howard is an alright drummer. I really like Muse, but I feel like they're incredibly overrated.
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