Whatever grim adaptation of comic-booky media comes out this year, we’ll be sure to hear the first 30 seconds of “Supremacy” used in the teasers. Muse kicks up the bombast without hesitation in this dreary take on “Kashmir,” a dash of mariachi pomp thrown in. This is our introduction to Queen and Other Rock Bands We Like: The Concept Album, aka The 2nd Law. The album is also a statement on corporate corruption following The Resistance’s take-that-totalitarianism themes. The pubescent and angsty teen male moods are amped up. This is what happens after you get married and have a baby. Your outlook just matures so much.
The 2nd Law is no Metropolis or ArchAndroid in terms of taking on freedom-quashing forces. Muse functions in some sort of dark alternate timeline of the now instead of a fun ride in an allegoric future. Everything is a dark, dark, circus and our only light is the loudest band in the land with the power of imitation at their disposal. There are goofy attempts to Queen it up, especially on “Panic Station” with its hefty nods to “Another One Bites the Dust.” We got Led Zeppelin and The Smiths peppering different parts of the album, sure, but the first quarter is Freddie homage.
“Prelude” is an instrumental suite preceding…“Survival,” the official anthem of the London Olympics. Matt Bellamy will win the race with his grandiose theme that he wants athletes to get pumped to, furrowing their sweat-soaked brows to the slow-mo training montage playing in their heads. Perhaps picture Wenlock and Mandeville jumping hurdles to “Survival” and the camp will come across as intentional.
“Follow Me,” a new wave flight through a neon tunnel, drops the bass but doesn’t delve too far into the dubstep realm. It merely teases and for that effort alone, it is a sweet relief. Without the dubstep, “Follow Me” cruises along with pretty electronic thumps, feeling rather original in the middle of this album.
The album benefits from the calmer moments: “Animals” is a slow burn with fair Edge-like guitar work and is also the most explicit with the album concept. That song, along with “Madness,” “Explorers” and “Big Freeze,” evoke the Zoo TV and Pop eras of U2.
“Save Me” is another piece from this calm and more promising chunk of The 2nd Law; it’s like Matt Bellamy et al. sat down and nodded at one another when deciding to come up with a Smiths-y “this is what snowfall sounds like” dream tune and it’s rather endearing.
Chris Wolstenholme takes over vocals on the Foo Fighters/Soundgarden hybrid “Liquid State.” This ain’t glitzy stuff, this is hard tuff stuff. The album’s back to The Loudness again that Muse does so well; after getting pumped with grungy moments, Muse greets us with a Hans Zimmer piece and zipper guitar and dubstep (“The 2nd Law: Unsustainable”). A posh newslady is backed up by a serious chorus, and Matt’s wails. This track, too, is destined for teasers and trailers.
The 2nd Law closes with another ambitious soundtrack work, meditative and piano driven with little swells akin to 2008’s “Take a Bow” mashed up with “Tubular Bells;” electric bubbles supply it with a Justice gloss. The ambition here pays off; while a bit too familiar, it doesn’t scream for attention like its predecessor and is another one of those moments that is grounded and another turn in the right direction.
In the end, too many allusions can spoil the pot; Muse’s effort goes in several directions that render The 2nd Law inconsistent and showy. But Muse has always been about show; these tracks will do well on their glitzy tour. Choosing the second law of thermodynamics for an album title proves apt for this release and musical projects to come; Muse still has some work to do to strike a universal balance.