UK trio Muse were always going to be a band in danger of veering over the line of taste into self-parody, and their mainstream appeal becoming commercial domination has done them no favours lately, either. But no-one could have foreseen this, reckons Music Editor and longtime Muse fan Mike McGrath-Bryan.
In 2010, Muse confirmed what many of us had suspected after the absolute tearaway success of their previous album Black Holes and Revelations, by unleashing The Resistance, an album so large, so full of ideas and bombast, with equal balance to fist-bumping classic-rock, neo-classical grandeur and their ever-evolving beatsy electro detours: that any more mental and huge would be far too much, too ridiculous, too predictable, and ergo counter to everything that Muse once stood against… Do you know what The 2nd Law does? It sees Muse take all the goodwill they have generated over the years, their integrity and credibility, hard-earned over years of relentless creative exploration and boundary-pushing, and flush it down the jacks, all while rocking Kanye shades, pining for more commercial track placement and smoking cigars made out of Twilight soundtrack royalties.
Remember the Muse that gave us Absolution? They’re nowhere to be found at all on this album. Supremacy lollops along on an uninterested, stock alt. riff while Matt Bellamy yanks out every counter-culture cliché that a movie-star-banging, overstimulated shell of an artist comes to rely on when he’s fresh out of ideas, with some falsetto in there too, just because. Madness is, to its credit, a decent slow-jam, but suffers from the band’s newfound obsession with Stateside-pop dubstep, wubs liberally applied with no real effect. Panic Stations is exactly what Muse weren’t when we were swarmed with identikit jingle-indie, and suffers hard for it. Bear in mind, that Muse specialise in left-turns regardless, but without anywhere near Matt Bellamy’s usual substance pinning things down lyrically, veering from empty rhetoric to empty pop hooks for their own sake, it all feels like an exercise in serving pre-defined target markets…
That Survival was picked as the theme tune for the Olympics in London, speaks to the over-arching universality your writer is sure the band were going for. Unfortunately, Bellamy mustn’t have heard himself back – the gravitas he pulled off so well in United States of Eurasia can’t be replicated at will, and is riffed on in an exercise in vagueness for its own sake that would leave James Hetfield asking questions. Follow Me is the stock electro-rock tune, synths glistening under a pumping backbeat, but it’s all for nothing in the bandwagoneering dubstep-laden chorus. It’s all so tired and stock that you wonder why they bother. If the album has a saving grace, it’s the understated Animals, with a gentle synth arp over some wonderful bass, but it’s so obscured by Matt’s delusions of grandeur running at odds with the song that it becomes a chore to stick it out. Explorers, of course, is the stock rousing anthem, like Guiding Light on the last album, and is as played out and predictable as one might expect.
Big Freeze is a curio, a smart, likeable, funk-laden pop song that stays within this stratosphere, to its great benefit, an oasis in a desert of old ideas. Unfortunately, its cast aside for meandering “anthem” Save Me, a big, overly broad and resultantly lost and pointless pop song. Liquid State shows brief flashes of Muse’s former brilliance, but gets mired in that ceaseless reach for that same old vocal line, but by this point in the album, it’s hard to muster any sympathy. Unsustainable is the nadir of this musical funeral: a mindless mish-mash of hastily-cobbled-together strings, faux-news narration and more pointless wubstep, it reeks of a lack of effort patched together by huge production, which is funny, as the more choral arrangements and horns they throw in the intro at something like this, the more limited and almost suffocating the band’s own limitations are exposed to be when the song supposedly hits the hook. “You’re unsustainable”, growls the big robot in the video. And you just don’t care. Mercifully, Isolated Systems draws this whole debacle to a close, the stock neo-classical pop piece to close the album in stock fashion, fitting given this aberration’s running theme of more of the same.
This is everything Muse used not to be, what they promised us they never would. Lazy, uninspired, ridiculous and detached, The 2nd Law is formula made music. It also serves as Muse’s ticket out of the artistic rollcall and away to join Def Leppard and the like in the unending self-parodic greatest-hits-tour undeath like so many before them. Complete irrelevance from a band that once stood at the forefront of contemporary music. What an utter shame.