Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Muse - The 2nd Law

When we look at the history of pop music, there is no denying that artists have taken the liberty of borrowing styles and sounds from other established artists. Improving on them or disfiguring them in the process, depending on which way you look at it. And English progressive-electro-orchestral rock band Muse does this like no other band can. With a lead singer who is trying hard to be like Freddie Mercury and Beethoven and backed up by a band who is feverishly building on the sound of Radiohead and Queen, they have seen their fair share of controversy. With a catalogue of multi-platinum albums and a few direction changes under their belt they now release upon the world their next chapter: The 2nd Law.

And how could we forget? The album garnered enough hate well before it was even released because of a trailer that was more Dubstep than actual rock and many a devoted fan was disappointed by their grandiose performance at the 2012 Olympics in London. So it’s safe to say that people reacted lukewarm when the release that was announced. But now that it is finally here we can wonder: is it really that bad?

As it turns out it’s not. The minute the first track, the ominously titled “Supremacy”, falls upon your ears you are greeted by the grandiosity you have come to expect and (as some do) love. Bellamy’s one dimensional lyricism about rising up for something lays comfortably under an orchestral piece that would be perfect for a James Bond soundtrack. It is as beautiful as it is pretentious, and it doesn’t fail in its intent to draw you into the solid wall of sound they have created. If their aim is to bedazzle and overpower their listener, they have certainly succeeded.

But this album will divide it’s listeners. On one hand you have the Muse purists, the fans that were there when Showbiz was released. The fans that loved Muse but started to get restless when The Resistance was released back in 2010. On the other hand you’ve got the more open-minded listener, one you perhaps enjoys the whole Dubstep thing that is raging over the world at the moment. Whilst the latter will certainly enjoy this album, the former might have a few gripes with this particular release. All the attributes that make Muse Muse are there: the Queen-ish phrases of Bellamy, the grandiose guitar work and the raw basslines. All make an appearance. It’s Muse through and through, but with an added element. That element is, of course, Dubstep. Korn was there first, with an album that featured the likes of Skrillex and Noisia and they released unto an album that was not ready for the blending of these 2 albums. It sounded less like Korn and more like Skrillex. Muse, however, does it differently. When they step away from their normal sound to experiment with electronic music, nothing that makes them Muse is lost. This is most evident on "Follow Me", a track that reminds me of a mixture of Dubstep royalty Nero and some of the older works by DJ Tiësto.
The track "Save Me" is co produced by Nero. Everything about this track screams Muse, even though there are no guitars, no live drums, no nothing. It’s not supposed to work, but it does. And it does it well.

The whole album feels like one huge buildup, becoming louder, then softer, then increasingly louder until you reach track twelve, the first part of a two-parter: "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable". The dreaded track from the trailer. And in all honesty this is the track that sticks with me the most. It’s loud, it’s heavy and dynamic and most of all: very well done. The second part of the track "Isolated System" gently swoops you down from the height the album has brought you on and shows you that Bellamy is still more than able to conduct a full symphony orchestra with as much grace and skill as he plays his guitar.

This album is not what many thought it would be. It saw the band move even further from familiar territory and the outcome is both terrifying and fantastic. Personally I was afraid that the band would screw up this new found interest in dance music but I am relieved to report that they did not. The band feels right at home with this new direction and are at their strongest when they play ballads ("Madness", the fantastic "Animals", and the powerful "Explorers"). This is an album that will certainly put a distance between their old fanbase, but it will also attract a fresh new batch of listeners. And I for one am not disgusted by that idea. Touché Muse, touché.


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