Sound — 5
It has been just over 3 years since the release of "The Resistance", Muse's largely disappointing 5th studio album. This highly anticipated follow-up is much the same, destined to divide opinion, alienate some fans, and convert others. "The 2nd Law" is equal to "The Resistance" in that it is bombastic, pretentious and self-indulgent. Sometimes, this pays off; album opener "Supremacy" is about as good as any Muse fan, old or new, could actually have hoped for. Yes, it's got strings and synth, but it also has a riff reminiscent of the jams from HAARP and an outro guaranteed to inspire moshpit madness. Ironically enough, "Madness", the lead single, is a low point. Matt Bellamy described this song as one of his favourites here due to its "minimalistic" nature. Bellamy is clearly forgetting, then, the last couple of minutes of the song; as desperate and cheesy as the worst synth-pop ballad. This, to me, sounds like a poor re-working of the far superior "Endlessly" from 2003's "Absolution". "Panic Station" is possibly the best song on offer here. Chris Wolstenholme tips his cap to John Deacon with a great bassline that is the focal point of a funk-rock stomper that will inevitably draw comparisons to "Supermassive Black Hole". This sounds like a band having fun, something we have not necessarily heard from Muse in a while. "Follow Me" is another of the album's most interesting tracks. Highly pretentious, but undeniably intriguing, it begins with the heartbeat of Bellamy's baby, Bing. This builds to a bass-driven dub-rock chorus, reminiscent of old Muse - another album highlight. "Animals" also has a unique sound, an odd tempo and a great breakdown over riot noises at the end, whilst "Liquid State" benefits from Bellamy dusting off his drive pedal for an aggressive, straight-up rock song. Whilst those are the highlights, "Explorers" and "Big Freeze" are little more than filler, whilst the song that shocked Muse fans everywhere, "Unsustainable" is certainly not a grower. Its classical intro is promising, but uneasily fuses with dubstep for a unpleasant mess of a song. "Isolated System", the final song and second phase of "The 2nd Law", is musically great, (it is hard to deny Matt Bellamy's talents as a composer) but ultimately dull. This leaves "The 2nd Law" as a mixed bag - an album with highlights and lowlights, but without direction or a strong concept. This is not so much an album as a collection of pretentious, genre-spanning musical experiments.
Lyrics — 3
The lyrics on this album also vary drastically. One can't help but ask if songs such as "Madness", "Follow Me" and "Save Me" really have any place on an album named after the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics? "Madness" is indeed one of the worst songs here due to its bog-standard love song lyrics. "Follow Me" isn't quite as bad, but is an obvious ballad to Bellamy's newborn son, not a song you'd expect to find on the same album as "Unsustainable", that is if we are even generous enough to describe unsustainable as a song; the lyrics are nothing more than rambling jargon, spoken by a female "newsreader". I hate to break it to Muse, but it is not interesting. The worst by far has to be "Survival", the woeful, thinly-veiled Olympic ballad. It is amongst the worst songs Bellamy has ever penned. On a positive note, Chris Wolstenholme takes to the mic on "Save Me" and "Liquid State". On the former, his vocals are superb until they are overpowered by electronic effects, whilst on the latter his voice lends the song a feel of menace and aggression far better than Bellamy's could.
Overall Impression — 5
"The 2nd Law" is another jumbled, poorly-thought out Muse effort, hell-bent on experimentation above sound. Whilst the sublime skills of each band member remain intact, they are all too often overshadowed by the electronics and frequently awful lyrics. The 3 songs that preceded the album, are strangely enough the worst, and they heavily weigh down more impressive efforts such as "Panic Station" and "Liquid State". Whilst a load of hardcore Muse fans will fight to the death to defend their idols' latest work, this fan will not. "The Resistance" was poor and "The 2nd Law" is much the same. Muse will always be a band that spark interest and excitement, but ultimately, they have not released a great album for 6 years.