'The 2nd Law' too sullen to amuse

Warner Bros

By Katie Steen, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 2, 2012

Muse formed in 1994 and, with fifteen million albums sold worldwide later, the band has had some time to reflect on what they’ve learned in the last 18 years — which is, evidently, that melodrama sells. Sullen dudes, dressed in black head to toe, looking angry while things explode in the background — people eat that shit up. With the band’s latest work The 2nd Law, the guys explore a few unexpected aspects of their creativity (read: dupstep), while managing to take themselves only a teeny, tiny bit less seriously.

Muse


The 2nd Law
Warner Bros.
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The 2nd Law is a dense album, or at least that’s what Muse wants you to think. The song “Survival” evidently requires a minute-long “Prelude” (sappy piano, crescendoing orchestra, choral ahhs). And the title track, a bombastic little bugger, apparently needed to be split into two parts — “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” and “The 2nd Law: Isolated System.”

The album opens ambitiously with “Supremacy,” which involves death metal guitar lines that quickly transition into, essentially, the James Bond theme song. After the second screech of “suuuupremacy,” it becomes heartbreakingly clear that Muse is taking itself seriously — except, actually, maybe not. Take “Survival” for instance, which was chosen as the official theme song of the Olympics. It’s a pretty awesome (in the literal sense of the word) song, but so cheesy in its awesomeness. It’s cheesy in the sort of “Bohemian Rhapsody” way — a great song but there’s no way to take it seriously when Matthew Bellamy shrieks “I’m gonna wiiiiiin” in falsetto. And then there’s the lightbulb moment — of course this is the Olympic theme song. It’s so serious but also shouldn’t be taken seriously at all … just like sports!

A particularly upbeat goodie on the album is “Madness,” the second single and arguably best track off 2nd Law. It’s an unexpectedly toned-down redemption of the damages done in “Supremacy.” The majority of “Madness” consists of a stuttering Auto-Tune voicing “madness” (makes sense) with a dubby backdrop womping along — yes, even Muse has decided to dabble in the dub. But it’s the nuances that make the song — including an adorable five seconds of voice harmonization — when the band finally stops trying to outdo itself and explores influences other than nonironic metal riffs and glam rock rip-offs.

At its worst, The 2nd Law sounds like a U2 reunion album (has U2 broken up yet?). By the second half of the album, you begin to realize two things — this is a long-ass album, and also, oh my God, there are thousands of people who really love, admire and pay lots of money to this band. And this is where the loveable dorkiness of Muse begins to really fade. “Follow Me” begins with what just sounds like a rambling drunk: “When darkness falls and surrounds you, when you fall down when you’re scared and you’re lost … ” Then the song mutates into a thrashing dubstep nightmare, which ruins any inkling of lovability the boys had with their Queen-y sound.

Muse is undoubtedly lame in The 2nd Law — let’s make this clear. But a couple — literally two — songs are great, not despite their lameness, but because of their lameness. But, like most Muse albums, there a just a few winners that continue to resonate long after the release date. “Knights of Cydonia.” “Starlight.” And now “Madness?” “Survival?” But while the dudes of Muse are shrieking and shredding and headbanging with hair in their face and sweat raining from their pores, they’ll fail to see that most listeners are rolling their eyes.