By Sean Philip Cotter
No one else packs this much bombast into their songs, or their albums for that matter. Muse’s sixth studio album, The 2nd Law, drops in the U.S. on Oct. 2, and it’s another big production in typical Muse fashion.
Even though they’re not making it available for purchase until then, Muse is doing something bizarre on iTunes. This entire album is available to stream on iTunes before Oct. 2, as one giant unit. Yes, you can listen to the entire 53:34 of the album on iTunes. It doesn’t tell you which track is which or anything. It’s quite strange. But awesome, I guess, because I got to listen to the new Muse album before it came out, and you can too. Yay!
I’m not the first one to draw some kind of line between Muse and Queen. Lead singer and guitarist Matt Bellamy himself said Queen influenced “United States of Eurasia”. Naturally. The gradual crescendo throughout the song, the blatant rock opera feel of it, and the distorted guitars giving way to piano and coming right back — I wouldn’t be surprised to find out Freddie wrote the track.
That’s all just something to keep in mind as you listen to this or any Muse album. Muse is all about making their music as epic as possible. They’re showmen. And this album continues in that vein, for better or for worse. Sometimes the band seems to get caught up in themselves, but they sure can play.
Muse is nothing if not multifaceted, and the band stays true to that here; The 2nd Law is a highly varied album. A brass section backs several tracks, and the third song in particular is decidedly funky. It’s super catchy, and probably my favorite on the album. Picture Chili Peppers with a more belt-it-out kind of voice and more layers of production.
Other highlights: the first track (again, I have no idea about track names, because Muse/iTunes don’t tell me names, or even where tracks start and end) is rescued from ho-humness by a terrific falsetto hook sung by Bellamy. The fourth track is “Survival”, which was the song of the Olympics this summer, so I’d heard it before. It’s solid. The latter part of the album — from about the 30 minute mark on — is less predictable and generally better than the first half of the album, which has several forgettable songs.
This leads me to the main criticism of the album: it’s diverse in the ways it’s supposed to be diverse. In the ways Muse likes to be diverse. Muse has a few go-to sounds. That’s more than what the average band has, which is just one go-to sound. But all the same, it seems like Muse randomly picks from one of several song templates when they make each song. So sure, there might be five different sounds on each album, but they’re the same five sounds on each album, unless we go back into the experimental/prog rock days of stuff like “Execution Commentary” from like 12-plus years ago.
There are a few examples of this. There’s the hard-driving “Hysteria”-style track with militant, march-beat drums in “Survival,” starting just before the 13-minute mark. Then you’ll find the poppy “Starlight” of this album after about 25 minutes of listening. The brooding, building, classically-influenced track that then goes harder, much like “United States of Eurasia”, starts about 18 minutes in.
Muse also jumps from one oh-shit-that-sounds-like-this-alt-rock-band track to the next, but with a different random alt-rock sound each time. It’s actually a credit to Muse’s musical skill that they have so many sounds in their arsenal. The 27-minute mark could totally be a previously-unreleased track from The Bends-era Radiohead. We’re then brought at around minute 34 to a U2-esque pop ballad. I’d never noticed that much similarity between Bellamy’s and Bono’s voices until this track. The 42nd minute brings with it a really cool song and a tone of voice I’ve never heard from Bellamy before — the pure-voiced frontman turns sneering and gritty, channeling Oasis’ Noel Gallagher to an almost creepy extent.
You listen to this for a little while, realizing you’re approaching the end of the album, and then — whoa, what’s this? A woman’s voice begins a creepy, skip-heavy end-of-days monologue over an orchestral background. And then HOLY FUCKING SHIT, DUBSTEP HAPPENS.
Yep. Wobbles, those shrill scratches, random shouted phrases before drops — the whole shebang, along with a Musey touch of “Duel of the Fates”-type choir, back Bellamy’s blowing the top off his vocal range about how ‘unsustainable’ (I’m guessing that’s the name of the song) our way of living is.
Damn. That was weird. And kinda cool, but mostly weird.
Yeah, I’m gonna give this one 3 stars out of 5. Muse’s outstanding musicianship and spot-on production carry the somewhat been-there-done-that music.