Muse – The 2nd Law (album) (Warner Bros. Records)

When you reach the heights that Muse has it must be a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If they attempted to remake their classic ‘Origin of Symmetry’ album like some many hope, they’d be criticized of taking a step backwards and running out of ideas. But doing as they’ve always done by incorporating new sounds and influences as a way to move forward has its critics too.

It is almost 13 years to the day since they released their debut album ‘Showbiz’ (released 4 October, 1999). Unless you’re AC/DC, treading the same ground and being pigeonholed can often spell death for a band. One could argue in order to have any sort of longevity a band needs to evolve in order to remain relevant yet remaining true their beginnings. In that light, Muse has done this. But for the first time it feels like something’s amiss.

‘The 2nd Law’ is a mixed bag of sounds and influences and unlike previous efforts the new album feels like a collection of songs rather than a solid body of work. A little something for everybody; it’s as if each individual song checks a box to attempt satisfying all their fans. There is the rock, the electronic, the funk, the musical theatre, the classical, the much discussed dub-step, and although minimized this time, there is of course the more recent Queen influence.

At times ‘The 2nd Law’ is the most intimate we’ve heard the band in some time (“Madness” and “Follow Me”) and other times it’s outrageously grandiose bordering on Spinal Tap (“Survival”).

The opening track “Supremacy” combines Rage Against The Machine riffing, James Bond theme-like strings before moving into an Andrew Lloyd Webber style theatrical verse. Matt Bellamy’s voice is in top form and sees him hitting notes not heard since “Hyper Music”. “Supremacy” is slow burning but undeniably Muse through and through.

The band’s current single, the George Michael electro pop sounding “Madness” (read review), follows next and is the most sincere, heartfelt and moving we’ve heard Muse in years. Vastly different to anything from the band’s first four records, “Madness” might just be Muse’s greatest moment in years.

The high energy “Panic Station” recalls “Another One Bites The Dust” through the verses,  “Thriller” in the chorus while set to a platform of old Red Hot Chili Peppers style funk right down to the addition of horns.

Just three tracks and we’ve heard three completely different sides of Muse. However, the album’s first single and the official single of the London 2012 Olympics “Survival” (read review) returns things to the style of the opening track and a more familiar sounding Muse. Over-the-top, grand with Queen style theatrics and pompousness, “Survival” sounds like it was lifted from ‘The Resistance’.

“Follow Me” is a solid album highlight that recalls the electronic-rock of ‘Black Holes and Revelations’ modernized with dub-step dance beats and buzzing and heavy synth basses with Matt’s trademark vocal acrobatics.

“Animals” is a highlight track that digs up the band’s Radiohead (circa ‘OK Computer’) influence of old – a comparison not made since the band’s ‘Showbiz’ days. Combined with some Santana meets Iron Maiden guitar solos and some truly solid bass work “Animals” is one of the most interesting songs on the record.

“Explorers” introduces piano for the first time on ‘The 2nd Law’. Initially based around only a vocal and piano, the song moves into Broadway musical territory but retains a lyric sincerity to keep things in check. The verses of “Big Freeze” display hints of U2 while the chorus is one of the hookiest and sees Bellamy in mighty form.

The biggest surprise comes in the form of the album’s two final proper tracks “Save Me” and “Liquid State”, which sees bassist Chris Wolstenholme take over vocal duties. “Save Me” is a prog-rock number while “Liquid State” is an alt-rock track recalling U.S. rock band 10 Years (in fact it’s also the most American we’ve ever heard Muse). Firstly, credit were it’s due – who knew Chris had such a great voice?  But it’s a brave move since every element that usually makes up Muse, not just vocally but musically, is virtually non-existent.

The final two tracks are actually musical interludes; the dub-step influenced “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” (read review) and the piano-driven electronica of “The 2nd Law: Isolated System”.

You have to admire their bravery – it’s what we’ve always admired about Muse. However, despite some inspired moments courtesy of “Madness”, “Follow Me”, “The Big Freeze” and “Animals”, ‘The 2nd Law’ sadly feels incomplete, patchy, and missing the edge and exhilaration of earlier albums.

‘The 2nd Law’ is released on 2 October, 2012.

Watch the video for “Madness” below:

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