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Not Abiding by the Law
The 2nd Law - Muse
Member Name: Novabug
The 2nd Law - Muse
Advantages: Classic Muse sound with some surprises, excellent and skillful vocals, drums and guitars
Disadvantages: Several dull tracks, some tracks disappointing. Maybe too electronic for hardcore rock fans
--Muse-ic to my Ears--
Although I discovered Muse just after the release of their second album "The Origin Of Symmetry", I became aware that many others were in the same boat. This album was the breakthrough record, and tracks like the aforementioned "New Born", "Bliss" and "Plug in Baby" being big fan favourites. The following album developed and refined their style even more, with the fourth album "Black Holes and Revelations" took a slightly different electronia-enhanced approach but resulted in their finest work so far. This style was toned down a tad for the next record, and "The 2nd Law" attempts to combine both their classic and more edgy compositions with an even more different direction. Formed in 1994, originally going by the moniker "Rocket Baby Dolls" and hailing from Devon's own small town of Teignmouth, Muse are one of the most popular and well-known English rock bands.
Muse's sound has been described as many things. Progressive rock, hybrid rock, heavy rock, classical and even electronica on it's own. I summarize this as alternative hybrid rock, it's really the best and simplest way to encapsulate it. They use a large range of traditional instruments, combining computer generated sounds, orchestral tones as well as some of the highest vocal skills you have ever heard. The front man of the band is responsible for this, Matthew Bellamy's vocals are incredible, and not just content with that, he plays a variety of instruments such as lead guitar and piano. The other members are equally as important, Dominic Howard takes the percussion and electronic stuff while the multi-skilled Chris Wolstenholme provides the bass guitar, keyboards and backing vocal to name a few. Up until now, they have achieved a good balance of all these factors. "The 2nd Law" is the bands 6th studio album.
Muse's varying styles reflects into their best tracks in a sublime and astonishing manner. I personally prefer up tempo, heavy and catchy tracks, but I found myself loving some or there more plodding softer stuff, rock ballads and generally the more peculiar tracks such as "Citizen Erased". Granted, some of the earlier slower tracks can be a little monotonous, and some later ones a little bit too crazy, but overall their work is consistent, original and defining.
--Packaging and Price--
The usual prices for a single disc CD are available, as well as the 2-disc limited edition with DVD, featuring a behind the scenes look at the making if the new record. Look to pay around £12 for this deluxe edition, £9 for the standard copy and just over £5 for the MP3 download.
Recently many of my favourite bands have opted for the folding card CD case, and The 2nd Law comes to you in this form. I don't like card cases as they are not as durable and lack the protection needed for a CD. This one, although adorned with nice fibre-optic brain stem images and blurred arty photographs of the band, it has wide slots for the discs and thusly causes them to slide out even in storage. Many a time I have opened it and seen the disc fly across the floor. A plastic case would have been better. That said, the booklet is nice, with more themed illustrations and photos set against a black background.
1 Supremacy - It pays to start on safe ground sometimes, and 'Supremacy' is this kind of semi-epic quintessential Muse sound. An ear catching angry guitar intro fades to soft vocals with a backing of a marching band. It rises in parts to a rather brilliant heavy guitar riff which becomes the staple of the track. Speeding up in places, while dropping back down to the riff flow, it's a fluid piece indeed. Some nice touches are added, distortion on the overlaying melody is wonderful, and Matt is in top form with the high vocals and cries. A perfect start to the album, and certainly gets you wanting to hear more. [8/10]
2 Madness - In a completely different tone to the previous track, 'Madness' in under-pinned my a blurred electric vocal sample, a warping synth bass and a constant plodding deep thumping drum hit. Mostly a vocal track, it's slow to get going with little changes as it progresses. The bridge guitar part is a tad clichéd, and the returning drop rather predictable. It's not offensive to ears, but just okay and simply just that. Nothing amazing. [5/10]
3 Panic Station - Seemingly taking cues from Cameo's 'Word Up' and a general sound that bears resemblance to ELOs material, 'Panic Station' in a good example of how Muse can surprise you now and then. Almost poppy and more lighter, it has a fun and lively flow, foot tapping a certainty with Matt taking a more snappy approach to the words. It has sing along aspects, a simple arrangement of a march drum loop and nice big-bands reverberating in the background. I like this a lot, not the usual Muse stuff, but very fitting for them and good to hear something fresh. [9/10]
4 Prelude - Simply a fill-in between tracks; piano, choir and orchestral chords blend nicely to act as a short building introduction to the next track. [5/10]
5 Survival - Again with an ELO-ish stunted vocal and piano inspired introduction, 'Survival' is billed as the leading track and I can see why, it has shades of the former Muse brilliance. A tension building sequence, Matt singing the single lines up until a heavy hit of dirty guitars, vocals reaching the higher screaming echelons and chiming choirs. It's fundamental idea is great, but for some reason I feel it isn't fully polished and doesn't fit together the way it should. Although a lot shorter in length, it tries to mirror the likes of 'Butterflies & Hurricanes', but falls short. Some typical excellent work with the drums and leads as usual however, but it almost feels incomplete. A shame, because it has the potential to be a truly epic track. [7/10]
6 Follow Me - A vocal starting point, the sound of doves among the strings in the background, you think this may become a lengthy rock ballad. This changes when the bass and drums start rolling in, Matt changing his voice to a call to the masses and all of a sudden, Bang! Dub-step phasing bass and synth make a very surprising appearance, something of which I did not expect from Muse. Reading the booklet notes, it's no shock that this additional sound is provided by clubbing dance outfit Nero. It almost works too, it's a very good track, I love the reverbed pitch changes in the bass in particular, but Matt's voice does not quite belong against the backdrop of the dance music bed. Or course, I found myself singing along, it has that draw factor, but something tells me this is not the sort of sound Muse will or should try again any time soon. [7/10]
7 Animals - Going into a more softer and flowing realm, 'Animals' is an execution of some of the best Muse material that takes a more alternate but recognisable direction. Well, sort of. Matt is again making fine soothing sounds common with the more docile Muse tunes, but it's the retro but superb melody guitar that wins this one over for me. Reminding me of Mike Oldfield's works and even a touch of a Radiohead in there, this is one of my favourite tracks on the album. Dipping out to bridges of typical Muse eloquence, it has something that I find very enjoyable for the soul. Radiohead fans would echo this sentiment and 'Animals' is probably the most accomplished track on the disc. [9/10]
8 Explorers - Simple mild piano's and whispering vocals instantly make you aware that this is a more usual Muse ballad. Strings are prevalent here, drums providing an equally mild support against the piano, strings and vocals. Personally, I find this a little dull and boring, kind of drawn out for the sake of it despite the fine production qualities. I don't like a high supporting group vocals, there is no catchy tune or riff, it's almost like an eighties drama show theme it seems. Not one of their best it has to said. [3/10]
9 Big Freeze - Some nice drum rim tapping starts this off, with some cheesy backing vocals echoing Matt's introducing verses. Again, it seems to be missing the oomph that you come to expect with Muse. Like 'Madness', it's not a bad track, but just doesn't deliver what you want. It has some cheeky funky guitar strumming, good string stretching and some milder big drum drops, be it still leaves me unsatisfied. Matt also seems to be trying to force the issue with the vocals too, and doesn't feel an organic as it should. [5/10]
10 Save Me - With Matt taking a backseat in the singing duties, this acts as a showcase for Chris to try his hand at making his own vocal skills shine through. While he has always done a fine job with the backing vocals, he doesn't have the penetration and octave range of Matt and this is clear from the outset. The guitar and drum arrangement is very basic, no major drum drops or solo spells as the whole song is hinged around Chris' harmonies. He does a fine job too, not the highest of talent in the voice department, but reminiscent of Athlete, Embrace and possibly Coldplay. A pleasant track, nice to listen in the background or whilst doing a task, but not the most memorable groundbreaking. [6/10]
11 Liquid State - This instantly reminded me of Muse's earlier track 'The Small Print', starting in a similar fashion. However, it has more familiarity with some of the american pop-rock such as the likes of Blink 182. Chris again takes the microphone, Matt seemingly on a break from the studio. This style is more suited to Chris' vocals, more rocky, up tempo with some nice bass riffs and guitars. Very short, but not a bad little blast. [7/10]
12 The 2nd Law: Unsustainable - Sample heavy, some nice epic big band chord hits and a solely more electronic sound in its entirety, it doesn't sound like a Muse track at all and would feel more in place on a Skrillex or Pendulum record. The only hints of its Muse connection would be the backing apocalyptical chords and Matt crying out over the loud, distorted bass synth and the slow drum & bass loops. It has obvious environmental and political statements to deliver with the robotic speech samples and squealing high tones. This is fine, although I'm not a biggest fan of this kind of message transference. Very enjoyable in a short and sharp shock kind of way, but not what I expect from Muse, and I'm not sure I can say I like that with any certainty. [7/10]
13 The 2nd Law: Isolated System - Staying with the synth/orchestra mixture, this time more sinister. With more urgent but darker chords and choirs, the haunting piano riff running throughout is wonderful. It sounds more mellow than 'Unsustainable', but share it's cues. For the first time I can ever remember, this is a full length instrumental composition; not a single vocal is uttered apart from the newscasters samples. The two tracks together are suppose to be the headliner for the album, but veering to the dance/ambient direction is not what a Muse fan is looking for. I was expecting a rousing epic climax with plenty of big drum riffs and loud guitars, but get a slightly gentle electric infused finish that ultimately is disappointing. I like this kind of music don't get me wrong, but not coming from Muse. [7/10]
All tracks Written and Produced by Muse (Matthew Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme, Dominic Howard.
Additional Mixing by Tommaso Colliva
Additional Vocal Production by Paul Reeve
Mastering by Ted Jensen
Released by Helium 3/Warner Music UK
Total Length - 32.27 minutes
It's an odd one this, like two different albums mixed together to form one. Certain tracks are classic Muse, some are inspired with new additions such as 'Panic Station', but I don't feel comfortable with the heavy use of samples, extended synth, orchestral strings and computer sounds. I just doesn't justify what Muse are about. Glimpses of brilliance are in this record, and more of that should be included, not chilled-out cordial tunes or dub-step driven tracks. Overall, it's a fine album, but in my personal opinion Muse's weakest so far; nowhere near the heights of 'Absolution' or 'Black Holes and Revelations'. A bit of a let down, but still a must for any Muse fan and maybe for some dance fans to take a look at. Good, but not Great.
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
Summary: A-muse-ing and enjoyable, but not what the band should be really about.