Throughout their career, it's always been clear that Muse aren't satisfied to just do the same thing over and over again, as they have evolved from their early days when they were (perhaps unfairly) pigeonholed as a Radiohead imitator into purveyors of some of the most epic symphonic rock since Queen graced the stage. On their sixth album, The 2nd Law, they continue to shake things up, diving deeper into the electronic rabbit hole as they experiment with a sound that's less reliant on Matthew Bellamy's guitar heroics, resulting in an album that's a bit of a mixed bag. Incorporating some of the slickest production the band has ever had with a more synth-heavy sound, the album certainly succeeds in feeling different from Muse's previous work. While this certainly keeps with their tradition of always pushing their sound in new directions, their excursions into dubstep and dance music on tracks like "Madness" and "Follow Me" feel more like remixes than original songs. Songs like these definitely have the spine of Muse tracks, but the production that's built up around them feels almost alien. This feeling really comes through on "Panic Station," which feels like a cousin to "Supermassive Black Hole," but where the latter was built on a solid foundation of heavy guitars, the former is over-produced into what feels like the band's version of Genesis' "That's All." Though there are plenty of moments like these, there are also lots of places where they get things right, with album opener "Supremacy" and Olympic anthem "Survival" leading the pack with their symphonic arrangements providing the album with the kind of sweeping grandeur that people have come to expect. The most surprising experiment, however, comes by way of "Save Me" and "Liquid State," which find bassist Chris Wolstenholme stepping into the spotlight as a singer and a songwriter for the first time. The two songs work well together, with the first feeling like a kind of drifting introduction to the other's bass-heavy drive, providing the album with a pair of songs that feel like a throwback to the Origin of Symmetry and Absolution days, while feeling different enough that they're not an obvious step backward. With so many different experiments going on, The 2nd Law can sometimes feel a bit disjointed. Fortunately, the sense of drama Muse have cultivated over the years provides just enough glue to tie the album together so that fans won't have too much problem navigating its choppy waters, and though not all of the band's experiments necessarily pay off, the album feels like a worthy proving ground for the ideas that will take the band boldly into the future.
The 2nd Law Review
by Gregory Heaney