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Album Review: Muse - The 2nd Law

3rd October 2012

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Devon's finest went from humble indie origins to one of the biggest bands in the world in the space of a decade. Their sixth studio album looks to build on that success with a fresh, electronic approach.

It has been a while since Muse unleashed their particular brand of operatic rock on the world. Three years in fact since the release of The Resistance, their most high profile album to date. Armed with a slightly unusual title and, controversially, elements of dubstep and electronica, the trio return with The 2nd Law, a chaotic maelstrom of orchestral arrangements, grinding bass, and bubbling synth lines. Certainly, they are not conforming to type. But does this make for a stronger album than what has gone before?

The 2nd Law kicks off in truly bombastic style: Supremacy wouldn't sound out of place as a James Bond theme, with its stabbing string chords, choral backing and melodramatic vocals from frontman Matt Bellamy. Indeed, the band themselves have stated that they are pushing for the track to be employed in the upcoming Skyfall.

From there, the group moves on into less familiar territory with single Madness, a sparse, introverted electronic effort. The tune's vocal harmonies have already drawn comparisons to Queen, but the throbbing synths and simple structure are more reminiscent of Depeche Mode. In any case, the song is a departure from the band's earlier, slightly campy forays into the electronic genre, such as Undisclosed Desires, and stands out as a genuinely affecting contrast to Supremacy.

Indeed, "departure" would be a suitable word to describe the work in its entirety. Olympic anthem Survival is present, complete with its own orchestral prelude, and while it may have seemed slightly bizarre in the Closing Ceremony, it fits in perfectly well amidst the musical experimentation on show. Follow Me is essentially a club-ready pop song, with Chris Wolstenholme's thumping bassline transcending the expectations of what can be achieved with a bass guitar. Big Freeze is based on a classic disco beat, while the album is rounded off by a double closer: the churning dubstep of Unsustainable and the minimalist electronica of Isolated System.

Not that The 2nd Law is without its more conventional moments. Together at the centre come Animals and Explorers, a pair of piano-based ballads that hark back to the band's earlier works. Liquid State, meanwhile, also reflects their former selves, but focuses on the heavier side of things.

Ultimately though, The 2nd Law works as an album because of the moments where the band ignore their past and become truly original. The standout track is Panic Station, a riotous funk tune that showcases the group's spectacular intrumental talents. Yes, there are tracks here that sound like Queen, Prince, Radiohead and many other artists besides. Yet this is never the prevailing atmosphere of the album - the group make every style their own, taking a variety of genres to a spectacular level and still making them their own.

On The Resistance, Muse faltered under pressure, playing it too safe and putting out a generic and underinspired work. The 2nd Law is so much more: stimulating, experimental and, best of all, never boring, it could endure years from now as Muse's magnum opus.

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