Muse – The 2nd Law Review

Then there is, “Survival,” which I already mentioned I have a certain distaste for. To begin, the foundation of the song sounds, if I’m going to be brutally honest, like the sort of thing I’d produce myself messing around on my Casio. By that, I mean it not only sounds terribly simplistic, it sounds bad as well. In particular, the choral parts sound cheap which, coming from one of the world’s most profitable bands, doesn’t seem right. Neither does Bellamy sounding this off his game. You can tell he’s trying to give his vocals some extra-added force to really drive the song forward, but that results in possibly the worst vocals he’s ever produced.

For examples of what I mean, listen to when he sings “race, it’s a race” or to the closing “I’m going to win.” He barely sounds like himself, and the same goes for the band itself. “Survival” sounds like a pale imitation of the Muse’s anthemic structure. It tries so hard to be epic, but comes across as forced, resulting in one of the worst songs on the record.

Continuing where “Survival” left off is “Follow Me,” with Bellamy still not sounding quite right at first. He improves as the song progresses, but it’s that start, and how short it is, that keeps it from achieving greatness as well. If the song were lengthened, allowing more time for buildup, something this song is sorely lacking in given its length, it had a chance at being something special. It already does something special, though, and that would be making dubstep tolerable. Used underneath Bellamy’s vocals, it oddly works, I’m surprised to say. However, that’s the only time in which it does.

After that is “Animals,” the first song to use a guitar tone which I unabashedly adore. If the guitars on the rest of the record sounded anything like this, my opinion on it might change drastically. Except this song isn’t without its problems or, rather, problem. That would be the fact that, whereas the previous song lacked a proper buildup to its climax, this song seems to lack a climax altogether. Unless you count the breakdown at the end, which I believe to be out-of-touch with everything that came before, it never goes much of anywhere. Still, I like the sound so much that I’m willing to forgive it for that.

Next up is “Explorers,” continuing the record’s love affair with sections where Bellamy sings softly over minimal instrumentation. That being said, he sounds terrific on this song, so I’m willing to give them a pass on that. Plus, of all the songs on the record, this is the one that seems to understand things like buildup the best. Starting at the beginning, it slowly builds up and then, right before it climaxes, it reigns itself back in and goes for another round.

Now onto “Big Freeze,” the anthem “Survival” (and others) wanted to be. As on “Animals,” the band nails the guitar tone, and as on the prior song, Bellamy shines. Unlike most of the record, though, the listener can really hear it building to a proper climax. But all that is ruined, at least in small part, by the end in which the guitar takes over, starting with another of the record’s weak guitar solos that’s made even worse by the addition of a sudden and unnecessary amount of feedback. It started off so promisingly, building up beautifully, but then it just stumbled to the finish line.

But there’s no such stumbling on “Save Me,” the first of two songs featuring bassist Christopher Wolstenholme on lead vocals. Admittedly, it’s second song to sound nothing like Muse, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in this case. Wolstenholme’s voice is simply gorgeous on this, even outdoing many of Bellamy’s performances on the record, and it’s his voice that carries the song and keeps it from getting too stale, as it’s all pretty samey.

He’s not as lucky on “Liquid State,” however, his voice overly processed and complimented by music that attempts to take the listener for a ride but ends up going nowhere especially worth seeing (or, rather, hearing). Even more than with “Save Me,” it sounds absolutely nothing like Muse. What it sounds like, I’m not sure. All I know is it has a certain mostly indescribable quality that makes it so it’s impossible for me to get into it in the least.

Finally, there are the two songs which bear the name of the record, “The 2nd Law: Unsustainble” and “The 2nd Law: Isolated System.” Both feel hopelessly out of place and tacked on. It’s as if the band went into this wanting to create a concept record, scrapped that idea, then threw the leftovers on at the end. As interludes between songs, or parts of a larger concept, these could work decently enough.

Slapped on the end, however, they only serve to undo any momentum the record might have had going with “Animals” through “Save Me.” In short, they don’t work by themselves, as they sound more like what you’d hear on a movie soundtrack than songs in the same vein as the others. Neither goes anywhere especially interesting with its music. That is, unless you count the awful and repetitive dubstep section of “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” as interesting.

Yet it seems fitting that that’s how it comes to an end. What makes The 2nd Law a slight disappointment comes down to three factors, the first two of which are displayed brilliantly by the final two tracks.

First, as I already said, I can find no discernible through-line tying all the songs together. As a result, it feels extremely disparate compared to the cohesiveness of the past record. Second, the record feels oddly simplistic and repetitive throughout and, thus, it has a hard time standing out at any particular moment in time. Third, the sound in general is not up to Muse’s usual standards. Bellamy often sounds, for lack of a better word, off. Likewise, the guitar tones are routinely bad, as are the majority of the solos.

All in all, it’s not necessarily a bad record, just one that could have used significant tightening in all aspects.