Muse – The 2nd Law
Buy: The 2nd Law
When announcing his band’s sixth studio album on Twitter in June, Muse’s Matt Bellamy explained the title with this enticing and typically cryptic open-ended statement:
“All natural and technological processes proceed in such a way that the availability of the remaining energy decreases. In all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves an isolated system, the entropy of that system increases. Energy continuously flows from being concentrated, to becoming dispersed, spread out, wasted and useless. New energy cannot be created, and high grade energy is being destroyed. An economy based on endless growth is…”
As a concept the second law of thermodynamics, and the notion of entropy in general, is a good (if a little untidy) metaphor to tie to the world’s current financial ‘troubles’. The message is fairly clear – an unceasing demand for growth is unsustainable, and Muse – being the acid-dropping 17 year olds from Devon they still are at heart – deal with it by being as ironically overblown and preposterous as possible.
On first listen The 2nd Law is very overblown, very preposterous and also very, very silly. The Queen-esque interludes that peppered The Resistance are everywhere, ranging from innocuous (the falsetto on ’Supremacy’), to slightly cloying (Brian May style guitar solo on ’Madness’) and borderline plagiarist (’Survival’). There’s also a fair bit of ‘dubstep’ (more on that later), disco, glam-rock and funk – all of which conspire to make The 2nd Law as complicated and as impenetrable as the concept it’s trying to convey.
After a fair few run-throughs though, Muse’s vision starts to make a bit more sense. The 2nd Law is not an album of songs, it’s a collection of rich and textured operatic movements, and your capacity to enjoy it depends on whether you can stomach that level of pretentiousness (even when it is ‘ironic’). It helps that Muse are pretty much virtuoso musicians at the top of their game – but for fans who loved the cut and thrust of their early work and were a bit unsettled by The Resistance, The 2nd Law is a massive leap in the wrong direction.
When you’re tuned into the album and listening to it as a ‘composition’, highlights suddenly spring up from all angles. ’Supremacy’ is an atypical Bond theme (too late I’m afraid boys!) that gets dragged into a sci-fi black hole, and is all the better for it. ’Panic Station’ is a ridiculous piece of sexually-charged, INXS-style 80’s ‘funk’ (for want of a better word!) that could only ever work as a Muse song, and ’Animals’ can only be described as a brilliant mini-rock opera condensed into a little over four minutes.
Then there’s the ‘dubstep’ – which is hinted at in Madness but gets its first meaningful contribution on the brilliant ’Follow Me’. If one song sums up The 2nd Law, it’s this very mental mash-up of Pet Shop Boys-esque pop and Skrillex-style bass ‘whompage’. It’s completely ridiculous and the very definition of bloated, egotistical prog-rock pretentiousness – but because Muse do it so well, they not only get away with it, but sound incredible while they’re at it. The dubstep influence takes over the albums ‘epilogue’, with ”The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” and ”The 2nd Law: Isolated System” making great use of the genre’s different approaches (from in-your-face bass to introspective atmospherics) to create an operatic and moving finale.
So, in summary: if you’re willing to shut the door on reality for a bit and give yourself up to Muse’s prog-rock pretensions then The 2nd Law is a pretty good album. If you (understandably) can’t do that, you’ll find it an impenetrable, difficult and unfocused mess of different ideas and styles. The choice is yours!