On October 2, British band Muse released their much-anticipated sixth studio album, “The 2nd Law,” in the United States, a day after its highly successful U.K. debut. This album is eye-catching from its cover artwork alone. Though certain-ly a pleasant listen, sadly, few of the songs have the staying power of the jewel case. Furthermore, when one considers the band’s wonderfully overwrought, massively successful previ-ous album, 2009’s “The Resistance,” it’s no wonder Muse’s latest didn’t quite live up to fans’ high expectations, or, at the very least, not mine – a slump in stateside record sales, as compared to “The Resistance,” would suggest that other U.S. listeners concur, though. The set of songs on the 13-track album, most of which are in the four- to five-minute range, is, in contrast with the largely coherent “Resistance”, all over the map and generally just doesn’t flow well. Perhaps most importantly though, the songs of “2nd Law” allow for the kind of sensory-heavy (taking a cue from their colorful al-bum artwork, perhaps), theatrical live performance that Muse knows just how to pull off, lending the effort merit despite its largely disappointing content.
“2nd Law” opens with “Supremacy,” which sounds more like a metal song circa 90s-era Muse than the melodramatic, experimental prog-rock anthems the band is now known for. However, the set soon settles into the usual groove, complete with synth experimentation and soaring vocals. Many of the first few songs are unspectacular, although the end of second track “Madness” is beautifully harmonic and is bound to stick with you in the sense of resonance, a nice contrast to the unabashed catchiness of third track “Panic Station”‘s spunky guitar. On first single “Survival” – which you may recognize as the official song of the 2012 London Summer Olympics – the band sounds as if it borrowed a bit of Regina Spektor’s particular brand of kitsch while layering Freddie Mercury-esque vocals in the background, the latter of which eventually explodes into full rock-operatic splendor. Though its sound and drama definitely evoke Carl Orff’s ubiquitous “O Fortuna” at times, this is the stuff that “Resistance”-era Muse fans hope to hear.
Personally, I most enjoyed the understated, uptempo middle track “Follow Me,” which features frontman Matt Bellamy’s distinctive timbre in all its wide-ranged glory while still straying a bit – just not too much – from what’s expected of the band. Starting with the one-two punch of “Follow Me” and the subsequent “Animals,” the second half of the al-bum is definitively better than the first, though it loses steam in the last few songs. I’d skip tenth track “Save Me.” Al-though the guitar lines are excellent, the lilting, roundabout chorus, while pretty the first time you hear it, can be dif-ficult to tolerate on repeat for what is essentially the entirety of a five-plus-minute song. Besides, the next song “Liquid State” is much better. Muse gets back to their hard-rocking roots with this headbanger, though occasionally the layer-ing makes it difficult to understand the lyrics, which, given Muse’s past music, can safely be assumed to be poignant (or at the very least intriguing). The largely instrumental pairing of final tracks, both of which incorporate the album’s name and are subtitled “Unsustainable” and “Isolated System,” respectively, complement each other nicely and recreate the theatrical feel of the critically acclaimed, chart-topping “Re-sistance,” though the former veers much too far into dubstep territory for my wobble bass-loathing taste. As a whole, I’d say Muse fans and fans of eclectic, electro-tinged prog-rock and smooth-voiced vocals in general ought to be open to “The 2nd Law” – just don’t expect it to be “The Resistance.”
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