Remember the howling squeal as ‘Plug In Baby’ boots up like an old PC on uppers? The totally outrageous but utterly brilliant bass line that makes ‘Hysteria’ so captivating? There’s a current trend that attempts categorise and analyse Muse’s musical canon and work out the definitive moment as to when it all went so bloody wrong: maybe we were young and naïve enough back then, before cynicism hadn’t so tainted our tutting Twitter feeds to not really care as to whether Muse had any depth lurking underneath their “rock out” posturing at all.
While the general consensus agrees that ‘Knights of Cydonia’ is still brilliant, opinion is divided: Usually the blame lies with Black Holes and Revelations, some place it upon on the disastrous and phony operatic nature of The Resistance. The insane amongst them even dare to suggest that Absolution hangs over the Teignmouth three as the first death knell. What the difficult truth may be is that Muse were always bad and if you’re an eager Muse fan reading this, you probably already have the idea that I’m a bitter and crusty “hater”, tenderly clutching my copy of Origins of Symmetry, but it’s important to call something out when it’s as sterile as The 2nd Law is even if it is painful to criticise a band who inspired much fondness not so long ago.
Fact is, from the days of Gothic Plague/Rocket Baby Dolls, Muse were always about style over substance. Silly claims of conspiracy theories deflected a thorough autopsy earlier on, but when they were young and drunk and throwing things around the spectacle and the energy was enough for them to scream and headbang their way into our hearts. As celebrity girlfriends and the Twilight Soundtrack become more a symbol of modern day Muse however, the fragile varnish that protected them for all of these years has well and truly rubbed off to the point that even all the rubbish about the significance of thermodynamics in the album’s conception sounds like they aren’t even trying to pretend anymore. Likewise, this is apparent in how desperate The 2nd Law is to simultaneously impress and distract an audience that have little attention-span with such a disparate ordering of each track totally disregarding any kind of flow in the process: In short, the album is a total clusterfuck, and for one that frivolously skips over so many genres, it’s surprisingly boring. ‘Unsustainable’ is frankly such an embarrassing dabble into ‘brostep’ that our only hope is that it will cause the whole genre to supernova and never bother us again. ‘Madness’ practically places the handlebar moustache on Matt Bellamy’s quivering top lip as he pushes a vacuum cleaner around the living room in drag and to quote the man himself from the album’s opener, ‘Supremacy’, “You don’t have long, I am on to you”. Well yes, quite.
This hopping from one idea to the other has been hailed by positive reviewers who claim that it is the sign of a band confident and excited enough to try new things and break new ground but to me it stinks of a band who are afraid and are setting their sights short by trying to appeasing everybody. ‘Survival’, for example, completely misses the point of what made the Olympics such a poignant success: Yes, it is “epic” and all that jazz, but behind all the phony talk of “strength” and “pace” and similarly empty encouragements that you’d probably expect from the Red Choir, it skips over the simple humanity that encapsulated the “Olympic Spirit” that struck such a chord with even the most hardened cynic, for cheap fireworks. There is the odd flash of something more when Bellamy’s child’s heartbeat introduces the track ‘Follow Me’, but any kind of sincerity is piddled away with hackneyed lyrics that simply don’t have any weight and Bellamy’s piercing screech is practically placed upon a fifty foot plinth within the mix.
Like Big Macs and Double Whoppers there is an instinct gratification that quickly disappears, leaving the consumer unsatisfied and there’s a sense that this could be what really lies at the centre of the album’s problem: It’s an LP that feels pre-designed for a lazy perception of “the digital age” and sounds intended to be consumed in single-song bites and chopped up by those impatiently flicking through Spotify and who are likely to “skip to the good track”. Sorry, but the sort of approach that you’d expect from the most insipid pop album simply doesn’t fly with this reviewer. The lack of artistry in this respect is grating and inescapable. There is almost nothing that leaves any kind of imprint, besides the shock factor of jumping into silly solos and dumbstep. It is nice however, to hear Chris Wolstenholme have some songwriting input with the two tracks ‘Save Me’ and ‘Liquid State’ which concerns a ten-year struggle with alcoholism.
Perhaps the biggest conspiracy theory that Matt Bellamy should consider entertaining now is how Muse ever managed to pull the wool over our eyes in the first place. Actually, that’s too harsh – Muse, and Bellamy in particular, are obviously competent and very talented musicians, but it’s the same logic as the basement warriors that battle over who can shred faster on YouTube: Dexterity and show-off prowess can never substitute a real heart and a soul. Maybe I’m just more disappointed that nothing can replace the fizzy and adolescent feeling that Muse used to give me as a teenager, but it’s all a bit like Dorothy discovering the Wizard of Oz hiding behind the curtain: A pathetic little man busying away on some levers to create the impressive smokescreen that fooled everyone, for a little while at least. Still, if you love Michael Bay movies, need something to soundtrack your Call of Duty sessions and harbour a one dimensional “us vs. THE MAN!” sentiment, you’ll certainly enjoy this for what it is but for Muse to rely on the special effects that are employed in The 2nd Law is quite clearly the exact opposite of “progressive”. It’s perhaps interesting to note that much like the laws of entropy that inspired The 2nd Law, it appears that the band are brazenly trying to cheat their own “ideas” by continuing on a path of aggressive, cynical and “unsustainable” growth: Much like the economy’s “boom and bust” cycle, the bubble has to burst sometime and maybe it is time for Muse to realise this, and step down with an air of dignity.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s all not as terrible as this prose makes out and can be a lot of fun at times but Muse seem to be pandering to us and second-guessing their audience by providing what rabid consumers expect, rather than allowing listeners to appreciate what comes from the band themselves and is more personal and sincere.
Released on 28th September 2012 by Helium-3 Records