Writing this isn’t easy, but there’s no escaping it – Muse’s new album, ‘The 2nd Law’, is frankly, a bit shit.
I say it’s not easy – some will happily say so, but to me it feels like an act of patricide declaring its shitness because there was a time not long ago where I used to judge people’s music collections depending on whether they featured Muse. An immature music judgement to make, sure, I mean why not Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Beethoven or Steps?
I don’t know, but I felt they were one of the bands of my generation. Whilst you could categorise some bands quite easily, Muse didn’t conform to any particular genre – a fusion of many different styles and centring their music on the universe, atheism, death and weird conspiracy theories. Bellamy’s voice and ability to play pretty much any instrument he cares, Wolstenholme’s lightning-fingered bass riffs and Howard on drums – what a sound they produced/ still produce as a three-piece. I used to lose myself (metaphorically of course) in the moshpits of venues and festivals around the country and jump around manically to Citizen Erased, Stockholm Syndrome, Hysteria and… ahhhh
That was the Muse I use to bore people to death with. The Strokes came from New York and made grungey, garage rock sexy and marketable. Along came the rock revival highlighted by a flash in a pan called The Darkness, and although fairly incomparable to Justin Hawkins, on this wave, Muse achieved their first top ten single in 2003 with, Time is Running Out. They toured for a year, headlined Glastonbury and other festivals, and anyone who saw the Absolution Tour can testify to its brilliance.
I think this was the turning point for the band. The success saw them reach new popularity and each album since has slowly taken them away from their roots towards a more populist style. ‘Black Holes’ was a decent album, Map of the Problematique, Assassin and of course, Knights of Cydonia, were all vintage Muse tracks, but the first single they released from it, Supermassive Black Hole was more Britney Spears than the dark space scientists of the previous albums.
Then 2009’s ‘The Resistance’ was a bit of a shock for me. Aside from Unnatural Selection and the bizarre but excellent three-part symphony at the end, it was more Supermassive Black Hole than Knights of Cydonia. Actually, it was more like Freddie Mercury than anything else and I wondered at what point it was that Muse decided they were going to glam up and become Queen. I mean, you expect bands to evolve, but not to become a camp 70s tribute band. Madness from the new album is a case in point.
In ‘The 2nd Law’, which takes its name from that well-known Second Law of Thermodynamics, rather than seeing a return to roots, you see the opposite – as Wolstenholme put it, the drawing of ‘a line under a certain period’.
My diagnosis is that whilst their style has always been about combining different conflicting genres, this time it’s too much, it doesn’t work to the point where it betrays their roots. A case of too many broths spoiling the cook – if that’s possible.
I’ve bullet-pointed some of the tracks with brief summaries to illustrate the variation in the album:
- Panic Station – attempted 80s revival but more like Scissor Sisters
- Prelude – a clip from a film soundtrack. The bit when someone rides off into a sunset
- Survival – Very Queen-like, grew on me during the Olympics, but then so did Greco-Roman wrestling
- Follow me – like a Lloyd-Webber musical. I half expect Bellamy to sing, “The… Phantom of the Opera is here…”
- Big Freeze – U2
- Liquid State – This is the second of two tracks where Wolstenholme becomes the lead singer. I’m not convinced and think Bellamy might have made this a good song
- The 2nd Law: a two-part track – very film score in style again with dubstep influences, actually quite good
It’s too ambitious. It sounds more like a Now That’s What I Call Music CD. If you put the last two tracks at the beginning you’d think you were due something pretty epic, but stuffed away at the end they’re more likely to be reminder of what could have been. If they were looking to evolve, this was the direction Muse should have explored further.
By Edward Lines