Over the past decade, Muse has emerged as one of Britain’s biggest musical exports. 2006 saw the release of Black Holes and Revelations, a cutting edge progressive rock album of the highest. Not only did it cement them as one of rock’s most ambitious acts but it helped them crack the tricky North American market. During that time, their sound has been expanding at the same rate as the universe itself, and their sixth studio album, The 2nd Law, is unquestionably no exception.
With The 2nd Law, the blistering choruses and operatic bravado still remain, but this time around Muse tries their hand at the latest musical buzz genre dubstep. Although, this is by no means a dubstep record. In fact, just defining what type of album The 2nd Law is, is like trying to eat soup with a fork: you just can’t do it. It’s a pop album, but it’s also a progressive-rock album. It’s an alternative album, but it’s also an EDM/Dance album. It turns out that the only real way to classify “The 2nd Law” is as a collection of songs––a collection that divvies into a smorgasbord of musical influences.
This diverse and at times bizarre assortment opens with the tune “Supremacy” which, with its multi-layered orchestral tones and big guitars, sounds tailor-made to be the next James Bond theme. Track two takes a drastic genre shift with the song “Madness,” a stripped down electro-bass line pop song. The musical rollercoaster continues with “Panic Station,” a funky track that is nothing short of being offspring of the Scissor Sisters and Queen. The prominent influence of Queen can be heard throughout The 2nd Law, most notably on the track “Survival,” an over-the-top epic that has the feel of “Bohemian Rhapsody” on speed.
Track five finds the British trio trying their hand at dance pop with “Follow Me,” a Rihanna-influenced dance floor anthem. And then there’s “The Second Law: Unsustainable” and “The Second Law: Isolated System.” This is where dubstep makes its unwelcome appearance. “Unsustainable,” an obvious nod to Skrillex and “Isolated System” with a shout out to Deadmou5, sounds painfully contrived and only adds to the album’s already insurmountable lack of cohesion.
Don’t get me wrong, The 2nd Law is still a hugely entertaining album that fits snuggly into Muse’s eclectic catalogue, but the album comes with flaws. It’s obvious Muse was trying to step out of their shadow with this latest anthology. During an interview with Q magazine, bassist Chris Wolstenholme stated, “It’s time to move on and do something radically different.”
Radical would be putting it lightly. The 2nd Law is radical to the point of intolerance. It’s also difficult to pinpoint what exactly Muse was trying to express here. To be just radically different is smug and illegitimate. In other words, it’s bombast for bombast’s sake. It’s almost like they did it for the hell of it, just to say that they could. That’s not genuine and lacks heart.
The inability to inject humanity into their music is a problem that has plagued Muse throughout their career. They have a masterful and technical ability and the aptitude to write some of the world’s most complex music. The 2nd Law only reiterates this, but as complex as it may be, it still feels like it was written by a supercomputer. I guess with an album title alluding to Newton’s second law of thermodynamics, I should have known what I was getting myself into.
If The 2nd Law was judged on technical merit and originality of each song individually, it would pass with flying colors. But if judged as a cognitive whole and taking into consideration emotional impact and authenticity, it would be a failed experiment. It is really up to the listener. If you like your music to have some feeling to it and a general sense of coherence then The 2nd Law isn’t for you, but if you want to hear something that could’ve been written by Hal 9000, then you’ve found your holy grail.
Critic’s Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Eric Duffert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org