Top critical review
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Not their best
on 29 October 2012
I've loved Muse since I first saw them perform "Bliss" on TV, being blown away by that huge guitar riff and Matt Bellamy's soaring operatic voice. Since then I've seen them live half a dozen or so times, including twice at Wembley, and they're probably the best live act I've ever seen, if anything getting better and better with every tour. In terms of albums though it seems to be a case of diminishing returns. Don't get me wrong - there is much to enjoy here - but it feels somehow lacklustre, and despite repeated listens I'm struggling to fall in love with "The 2nd Law" like I have with most of the other albums.
It starts so well, with "Supremacy" sounding like a Bond theme in waiting, full of strings and all of the over-the-top flourishes that make Muse the band that they are. It's easily the most Muse-like song here, and in some respects feels like a bit of a farewell to their "old" sound, as after this track it all goes a little strange.
I like "Madness" a lot, starting with a similar sound to "Undisclosed Desires" from their last album, but after a few minutes the tone shifts and the band seem to burst through the electronic murk. Some people have said the song sounds like Prince, and maybe it's because I'm a Prince fan I like this, but it's possibly my favourite on the album.
"Panic Station" is fast and catchy, sounding rather like 80s funk (my girlfriend - also a Muse fan - thinks it sounds like Duran Duran!) but it doesn't really work for me. It's OK, but feels insubstantial.
"Survival" is this album's "United States of Eurasia" - the big Queen-alike epic, complete with lots of piano, squealing guitars, and will probably see lots of people wander off to the bars when they play it live. Perhaps too OTT for its own good?
"Follow Me" - the first of a few songs which seem to feature endless repetition of "(something) me" in the lyrics - is the first track featuring dubstep-like tones, a deep electronic bass smothered with synths dominating the chorus. It's fun, but doesn't sound like Muse, aside from Matt's voice. It actually sounds more like a club track than anything.
"Animals" - Had great hopes for this, but it just sounds a little too meandering. At the starts it sounds like something from the "Showbiz" era in a way, and becomes a bit more interesting as it goes on, but it doesn't seem to really go anywhere.
"Explorers" - Sorry, but I really don't like this one. Sounds almost like something from a musical in a way, and I always think it is called "Free Me" because Matt sings those words so many times.
"Big Freeze" - sounds like U2!
"Save Me" / "Liquid State" - Two songs written and sung by Chris, the bass player, and they really serve to show just how much Matt's voice brings to the band. To me these tracks just sound like a fairly run-of-the-mill rock band - competent but unremarkable.
"The 2nd Law - Unsustainable" - I may be in the minority but I think the blend of strings, choir and dubstep influences really works here. Noisy for sure, but it has grown on me more than anything else on the album.
"The 2nd Law - Isolated System" - Reminds me of Mike Oldfield, circa "Tubular Bells 2" or 3. An ambient-sounding instrumental.
All in all it is a reasonable collection of songs but for me it lacks that certain spark, and in some respects it feels a little rushed, as though they hurried it out before they had a couple of really excellent tracks to fit into the collection. You won't find another "Bliss", "Stockholm Syndrome", "Knights of Cydonia", "Plug In Baby", "Citizen Erased" etc. here, and although they're clearly very, very good at what they do it is all a bit of a disappointment. Maybe it will all sound better when I hear them play it live.