Sunday, December 09, 2012

Muse and the melting pot of genres

album review

The 2nd Law shows that the group can reinvent themselves

Band: Muse
Album: The 2nd Law

Last year, in a message on his Twitter account, Muse frontman Matthew Bellamy described his band’s new material as a “christian gangsta rap jazz odyssey, some ambient rebellious dubstep and face melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia”. The post may have been in jest, but in spirit it almost comes close to describing their new album, The 2nd Law. No, there isn’t any “gangsta rap” on it, but the album really is a melting pot of genres, creating amalgamated electronic metal flavoured progressive rock with an occasional tinge of dubstep. Yes, at times it’s almost as peculiar as that sounds.

On ‘Unsustainable’, the penultimate song of the album, for instance, a female voice layered over an electronic landscape spends the better part of the track reminding us that “if no energy enters or leaves an isolated system, the entropy of that system increases”, quoting the second law of thermodynamics, which the album’s title references. The last track of the set, ‘Isolated System’, tells us how “in an isolated system, entropy can only increase”. Put together, what we have here is perhaps the best science lesson since They Might Be Giants taught us that “the sun is a mass of incandescent gas”. So if nothing else, the album at least serves as a high school science refresher course.

Luckily, though, there is much else.

Before it wanders into dubstep-adjacent territory with its second last track, the album delivers some more symphonic rock, even though it displays a more synth-heavy Muse than we’ve previously seen. It starts in typical Muse fashion with the epic ‘Supremacy’, which then leads to the standout second track ‘Madness’, a delicious slice of electronic rock, and goes on to yield songs like the smooth ‘Explorers’ and the rocking ‘Liquid State’, which is one of the two songs on the record that were penned by bassist Christopher Wolstenholme. And the cacophony of the corny ‘Survival’, which had the dubious honour of being the official song for the London 2012 Olympics, also appears on the album.

If you’re used to playing “spot the inspiration” when listening to Muse tracks, then The 2nd Law will give you plenty of opportunities to do so. Something that is often stated as a criticism of Muse is the various influences that are obvious in their work, and this assertion also applies to their new material. You can distinctly hear a number of influences throughout the album; for instance, shades of Queen, Radiohead, and U2 appear in songs like ‘Madness’, ‘Animals’, and ‘Big Freeze’ respectively. So that critique won’t stop haunting the band with this album.

For the most part, The 2nd Law is modern, crisp, and well executed. And with Muse, you wouldn’t expect anything less. Yet it somehow isn’t nearly as exciting as their previous releases. Nothing here hits quite as heavily as, say, ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, and the grandiosity of songs like ‘Knights of Cydonia’ isn’t as manifest here. The record is, perhaps, a bit disjoint, and the pieces of different styles thrown in sometimes do not come together as cohesively as one would’ve hoped.

To their credit though, Muse have tried something different and journeyed into an expansive territory that traverses a number of genres, which is a fact they must be commended for. Instead of getting comfortable with their vibe, they have experimented with their sound and created something that is clearly different from their previous releases, without losing themselves completely in the process. The 2nd Law shows that the group can reinvent themselves and present their work in a number of hues and tints. Ultimately this is still Muse, just in a different shade, and whether this is the Muse you like or not will depend entirely on your musical leanings.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 9th December, 2012

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