Muse is a band that thrives on excess. The song that made their name is called “Knights of Cydonia,” the Resistance tour featured three individual towers for each band member that moved up and down like elevators, and their last album ended with a suite of three songs cumbersomely titled “Exogenesis Symphony”.
So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the trailer for their newest album, The 2nd Law, featured a robot yelling “UNSUSTAINABLE” over dubstep wobbles. And I guess this means that I was supposed take their Olympics anthem, the pounding, completely ridiculous “Survival,” seriously. Yet whenever I hear Matt Bellamy scream “I’m gonna WIIIIIIIIN” in his trademark falsetto, all I can do is cringe.
Look, I consider myself a Muse fan. I’ve seen them live twice, and I adore both Absolution and The Origin of Symmetry. I understand when one decides to listen Muse, they expect to deal with a good bit of cheese, but The 2nd Law truly is a bloated, absurd mess. It retains almost none of Muse’s good qualities and delights in their worst.
The entirety of the album is confounding. Album opener “Supremacy” appears to be Muse’s weird attempt to write a James Bond song. It then moves rather strangely into “Madness,” an enjoyable George Michael-esque pop tune that is probably the album’s best moment. From here the album strays even farther from the Muse I know. “Panic Station” is an odd attempt at funk-rock that falls apart immediately. The aforementioned Olympics theme, “Survival,” is one of the more comical songs to which I’ve ever listened. It fails at every level. (I’d complain about the lyrics too, but Bellamy has never been a good lyricist.) All of these songs are thrown together without any concern about their cohesion, leaving the album feeling haphazard and disjunctive.
Surprisingly, not all the songs are terrible. As I mentioned earlier, “Madness” is a fun little song, and “Follow Me” uses dubstep influences which render a fairly interesting composition. Then again, what isn’t terrible is incredibly boring, which is this album’s cardinal sin. While “Big Freeze” is a second-rate U2 song, “Explorers” is a decent Muse-like ballad. However, it is also completely similar to Muse’s other pop-ballads (“Falling Away With You,” “Starlight,” etc). Bassist Chris Wolstelholme also contributes two songs to the album, the Foo Fighters-esque “Liquid State” and “Save Me”. Both are tolerable, but if you remove Bellamy’s voice from the equation, these songs are incredibly unremarkable.
The 2nd Law is not a very good album. I hope that this latest release is simply the tipping point of all of the excessive symphonic dreck that began with The Resistance and that their next album will return to their iconic alternative style. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to suggest that Muse is cashing in on the use of dubstep. They’ve always been an extravagant band, obsessed with conspiracy theories and Queen, and put on lives shows as absurd as they are incredibly delightful. But when I listen to The 2nd Law, all of the bad pushed to the forefront, and all of the good nowhere to be found, I start to forget why I even enjoyed Muse in the first place. And that, to put it crudely, really sucks.
To learn more about this album and Muse’s current tour, check out their website.