“The 2nd Law” is Excessive, Ridiculous and Not Very Good

By Burk Smyth • October 9, 2012 at 10:00 am


The cover of Muse’s sixth studio album. | Album art courtesy of Helium 3, Warner Music Group

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.


Burk Smyth is a music writer for The Quad. He is from Baltimore, Md. and enjoys punk, indie, black metal, baseball, Magic: The Gathering, Everton Football Club and being terrible at Dota 2. Follow him at @burksmyth, where he tweets about Trent Reznor, Leighton Baines and dotes, mostly.



Responses

  1. jake

    I must admit it’s nice to see a refreshing review like this, to many just suck up to the successes of muse and quietly ignore the outcries from a fair amount of the fan base. Personally I felt it was just a heavily made up resistance album, except the make over was done by a blind man, sticking a few dub-step bells and whistles does not cover the same old melodramatic space rock or increasingly cheapening pop rock that seems to be all muse can write nowadays, to the point that the songs from animals to liquid state blur into a horrible brownish mess on the album as they are so similar one after the other

    • Burk

      Yeah I tend to agree with you, it’s not really an evolution from The Resistance (which I think is a pretty poor record to begin with) so much as Muse deciding to patch up The Resistance with some weird genre experimentation that they really aren’t suited for.

      I know it makes me sound like a stereotypical annoying music fan, but Muse really need to get back to writing some more formulaic alt rock. I know that Matt Bellamy desperately wants his band to be Queen, but there’s only one Queen and they are kind of impossible to emulate.

  2. Curry

    I don’t know, I’ve never seen Muse striving to be Queen. The only shout out to Queen I can think of are the harmonies in the United States of Eurasia. If anything, Matthew Bellamy wants Muse to be the next U2, but I’d say that’s even being a stretch.
    The 2nd Law seems to be an attempt to move on. Imagine if every Muse album sounded like Showbiz. I’d be annoyed by now, wouldn’t you? No two Muse albums are the same (yes, that’s a personal opinion) which is something I love about them.
    I also don’t understand some of the complaints about the new album being different from their “old sound.” The intro to Supremacy could have been on Origin of Symmetry. Liquid State could have been on Absolution. No one complained about Suppermassive Black Hole being a “departure” from the “classic” sound, so why is a song like Panic Station getting a bad rap from people?
    I think is what this boils down to is the fact that people are never, ever satisfied. Releasing another Absolution would have made people complain that Muse is playing it safe, pushing their sound forward makes people want “old” Muse back.
    This article is regurgitating everything super Muse fans were saying before the album even came out. And would people stop it with the Dubstep stuff! The only think even remotely Dubstep-esque on the album is Part 1 of the title track. Follow Me is just a typical electronica song; Nero isn’t even a Dubstep group! The way people keep critiquing this album, we might as well start calling Welcome To the Machine by Pink Floyd a Dubstep song. It has more similarities than Madness does to the genera. Haven’t hear it? here’s the Youtube tag: watch?v=NCfVFxRsKQc
    Also, Mr. Burk Smyth, for being a Boston University student, I must say that your writing style is pretty immature. Come on, I’ve never seen anybody THIS melodramatic about a new record! “I start to forget why I enjoyed Muse in the first place.” Really dude?

    • Burk Smyth

      As it pertains to Queen: I admit that my statement was probably a bit ridiculous, and I can’t pretend I know what Matt Bellamy et al are trying to do. But I do think that they take more than a few pages out of Queen’s book. I also don’t think it suits them.

      And yeah, dubstep. Dubstep is a weird genre that has about a million people arguing about what it is and what it isn’t. I actually don’t think any of their use of that genre, or EDM in general, is bad—like I said, I really liked Follow Me, and while I don’t think I mentioned Unsustainable, that song didn’t bother me one bit. It was more the presence of the sound in the first place—it was a strange move, one that contributed to the record’s lack of cohesion more than anything else. Also, I never called Madness a dubstep song. It sounded like a George Michael song, and I thought it was good. As for Panic Station, it’s just not a very good song. It could have had big guitar riffs in it and I wouldn’t have liked it any more.

      Of course I don’t expect Muse to write another Absolution or whatever. That would, as you said, be tiring. But, both The Resistance and The 2nd Law have had Muse adding more and more influences into their sound—something I’m ok with—while simultaneously dropping a lot of what I like about them. Other people may be fine with this, and that’s great! But, and I’ll also admit that this should have been more clearly stated and was an oversight on my part, I wish that they would add these influences while retaining more of their old style. Supremacy isn’t enough.

      As for my writing being “immature”—I’m not sure that’s a criticism I really follow. Yes, I reacted with emotion. Have I forgotten why I ever liked Muse? Of course not, I’ll listen to “Starlight” or “New Born” and I’ll totally enjoy it. It’s a statement that’s not meant to be totally literal, but it’s meant to get across that I was incredibly frustrated with this record and Muse as they currently exist. Music writing is a pretty indeterminate thing, and my own writing tends to involve some of my personal feeling as well as my critique and praise of whatever I happen to be writing about. If that happens to be both immature and somehow representative of poor writing in the context of me being a BU student, then I don’t really know what to say. What would make my writing more mature? I’m always up for constructive criticism, maybe some that’s a little less condescending, though.

  3. Rob Downing

    “The 2nd Law” Is Excessive, Ridiculous And ….. utterly, utterly brilliant”
    Definite nods to Queen throughout their career (a very good thing). Often the Q references are more to do with attitude and vibe than sound (although there are quite a few phrases and riffs dropped in that are pure Freddie and the boys) On 2nd Law references,tastes and teases to a whole range of artists and genre all over the place .. make the album fun, pompous and typically Muse, outrageous and brilliant.
    Long may the Mighty Muse, the greatest band on the planet (and beyond), continue to be ‘Excessive and Ridiculous’

  4. I have to agree with Jake and Rob. It is refreshing to see a real review. I purchased the album through iTunes and my son loves it!

  5. Roman Padilla

    Their “The Resistance” arena stage consisted of three towers, not four.

  6. Nick S

    I’m wondering if many of the 2nd Law album’s songs were meant to be heard live. Like the reviewer, I did not like The 2nd Law on my first listen over headphones. However, after seeing Muse perform several of these songs live, they were *much* stronger. The studio recordings just are not chaotic and organic and as over-the-top exhilarating as the live Muse performance. Given that The 2nd Law’s theme is entropy, that would make some sense.

    After the concert, I went back and listened to these same songs’ studio recordings, and I was really struck by how different they sound compared to the live performance.