Variety can divide people. For almost 20 years Muse have been steadily growing in popularity, culminating this summer by being asked to contribute the official song for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, not to mention selling out the London O2 Arena.
In what could well be the height of their career, you might expect the band to play it safe and give chart-lovers what they want to continue their ascent into legendary status. The 2nd Law however, is not afraid to buck the trend and give fans something different to what they’ve heard before.
From the outset the album is unmistakeably Muse, with the signature crunchy guitar and operatic vocals introducing opener ‘Supremacy’. All the things fans have come to know and love about the band are present and correct, including the slightly hypnotic vocal style of leading man Matt Bellamy, in a tune which wouldn’t sound out of place as a theme song for a new James Bond film.
Almost immediately though, the band shake things up with second single ‘Madness’ a track stripped bare and back-to-basics, it could just as easily have been an acoustic number. ‘Panic Station’ takes a completely different tack altogether, sounding like a lost gem from the early years of Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Throughout the album the band continue to change things up with every track, making an eclectic mix which just barely hangs together as one album. In interviews the boys have said they wanted to write songs for this album which couldn’t have appeared on any other Muse album – and they have undoubtedly succeeded.
The influences shown with previous effort The Resistance have moved on again this time around. There are clear elements of Queen in ‘Madness’ and ‘Survival’, but that couldn’t be further from the likes of album tease ‘Unsustainable’, which has a glimmer of dubstep akin to the likes of Skrillex.
In many ways the Muse DNA shown in their previous album has been pushed to its limits here, reflected in the contrast between the geometric technicolour of its cover art, to that of The 2nd Law, which is a mass of sprawling strands of colour, almost fighting to escape.
If it’s ‘normal’ Muse songs you are looking for, then there is still something here for you to enjoy. ‘Big Freeze’, ‘Animals’ and ‘Follow Me’ all stick closest to the ‘traditional’ formula, but still each offer something new.
The band’s knack for a deceptive slow number continues with ‘Explorers’, which seems to be the spiritual successor to tracks such as ‘Invincible’, ‘Guiding Light’ and even ‘Sing for Absolution’.
The real unexpected pleasure on the disc is the much-discussed debut of songs penned by bassist Chris Wolstenholme: ‘Save Me’ and ‘Liquid State’. As well as writing, Chris also takes lead vocal duty, and the songs really give a completely different vibe to not only the rest of the album, but the entirety of Muse’s back catalogue.
Luckily both tracks are a triumph. Chris’ voice is similar to Francis Healy from soft pop-rock outfit Travis, and the effect of combining it with Muse’s style is excellent. ‘Save Me’ is a calmly flowing plea for help, while ‘Liquid State’ is more familiar waters musically, but has a refreshing tone to it. The most enjoyable part of the songs is that Matt remains almost completely silent and lets Chris steal the show, no easy task for a musician with such distinctive talent – though since he still remains timid at live shows he may well have enjoyed sinking into the background.
This album is not out to prove anything to anyone but the band itself. It takes a while to get used to and doesn’t necessarily give the first impression you might expect, but it rewards perseverance in a way no other album in Muse’s back catalogue does.
James Michael Parry
Image courtesy: brookegoesharvey.tumblr.com