Sound — 8
Muse originally started as a Radiohead-esque alternative rock band and have since grown into one of the biggest stadium rock bands of recent years (not of all time, though). After a lackluster fifth album - "The Resistance" - the Devon trio's sixth attempt, weirdly entitled "The 2nd Law" is a drastic change in sound for the band. However, things do begin a little familiarly, with "Supremacy", a stadium-filler song with more than just a little debt to "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin. With a big riff, epic strings and a stunning climax, Muse fans will settle right in to "The 2nd Law" with this song. But with the lead single "Madness" up next, the listener is almost thrown into the deep end of the band's experimentation. With no guitar, minus the Brian May aping solo in the bridge, the song is driven by electronic instruments and a basic beat. Upon first listen, the results aren't good, but "Madness" is definitely grower. Other highlights include "Panic Station", "Animals" and "Follow Me", the latter pulling dubstep off successfully, unlike the first part of the album's epic closer, "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable", which has a promising beginning, but ends up a confusing mess by the end. The only problem I have with the sound of the album is that an artist or influence can be tied directly to every song, for example, Led Zeppelin with "Supremacy", U2 with "Big Freeze", Queen with "Survival" and "Explorers", Queens Of The Stone Age with "Animals" and "Liquid State". The list goes on and on, and unfortunately there are only a few flashes of originality in "The 2nd Law". But when copying sounds as good as this, I'm not complaining a huge deal.
Lyrics — 7
Matt Bellamy's lyrics have never been his strong point, and with "The 2nd Law", there is only the occasional exception. They go from "not half bad" (see: "Animals") to "f--king atrocious". Case in point, "Survival", the over-the-top, Queen-esque, popcorn song of the Summer written for the 2012 London Olympics. "It's a race, it's a race, I'm gonna win, yes I'm gonna win" sings Bellamy, and you can't help but feel he could've tried a little harder. But then again, it is for the Olympics, and the way he so passionately delivers those terrible lyrics does make you overlook how bad they are. In fact, Bellamy's vocal delivery on a lot of songs is sometimes the highlight: "Panic Station" is filled with so much breathless, pelvis-thrusting effort that Prince would be proud. Of course, Bellamy is known for voice, mixing deep vibrato with screaming falsetto with ease, and "The 2nd Law" is no different. But the big change is bassist Chris Wolstenholme writing and singing two songs: "Save Me" (a typical Muse ballad) and "Liquid State" (rockiest song on the album). Weirdly, these are the highlights lyrically, and shows what talent Wolstenholme has, and also raises the question if his talents will be put to use again.
Overall Impression — 7
Here's a track by track guide to "The 2nd Law": "Supremacy": big 7-string riff, thumping drums, epic string, check, check and check, another classic Muse song. "Madness": a grower, and better live, this shows Muse's experimentation at a peak. "Panic Station": a personal, funky favourite. Mixing Talking Heads, some David Bowie and 80s Queen, this song is one of the more successful experiments on the album "Prelude": a simple, orchestra-and-piano, um, prelude to the main course that is... "Survival": much has been made of the official Olympics anthem, and I like it just for it's sheer ludicrousness. "Follow Me": featuring Bellamy's recently born son's heartbeat, this song feels like a remix of just a plain Muse song, and is a "marmite"-type of song. "Animals": featuring initially calm and quiet electric piano, bass, drums, and flamenco-esque guitar, who all tumble each over in an interesting 5/4 time signature, this song suddenly explodes into a strong riff and what sounds like a Wall Street Riot in the background. "Explorers": a slow one that sounds just a little too much like "Don't Stop Me Now" for my liking. "Big Freeze": this sounds like U2 doing a cover of "Map Of The Problematique", a Muse song that is great, unlike this one. "Save Me": the first of two Wolstenholme-headed songs. A typical Muse ballad, it possibly goes on for a bit too long. "Liquid State": kicking things back into gear, distorted bass and guitars clash as Wolstenholme spits about his troubling alcoholism. "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable": oh dear. Another rock band has tried "going dubstep" and it hasn't worked, despite the promising beginning. "The 2nd Law: Isolated System": a beautiful track to end on, as twinkling piano says goodbye to "The 2nd Law". All in all, a mixed bag for Muse. While undoubtedly better than "The Resistance" and the band's debut, "Showbiz", it struggles to trouble the better, although not bigger, albums of Muse's career ("Origin Of Symmetry", "Absolution", "Black Holes & Revelations"). Top five highlights (in no order): "Supremacy", "Panic Station", "Survival", "Follow Me", "Animals".