Before the 2nd Law hit shops, there was a lot of heated debate amongst Muse fans about the bands so-called ‘dubstep’ direction. To be fair this was largely engineered by the band themselves, with the first ‘trailer’ for the album being the track Unsustainable, an apocalyptic crash of environmental paranoia, Satanic orchestration, and yes, Skrillex indebted dubstep boom. As it turns out, Unsustainable is a playful red herring (as playful as a track about future world collapse can ever be), and The 2nd Law is rife with fan pleasing, typically Muse moments- gargantuan basslines and guitar licks, stadium filling orchestration, complex, proggy arrangements that twist and stack, and a towering inferno of ambition.
Opening track Supremacy is a belter- a James Bond theme as played by the Sabbath. Matt Bellamy howls an operatic threat to those secret Illuminati rulers of the world that fascinate him so:
“You don’t have long// I’m on to you// The time has come to destroy// Your supremacy”
As a first shot it’s quite the statement of intent, preposterously big, and blockbuster thrilling. The next number, Madness is a total about face- a minimal pulse of electronic bass, and a vocal that, for Bellamy, is the epitome of restraint. There have been both Queen and U2 comparisons justifiably levelled at Madness- on further listens I’m sure it takes it’s chord progression from George Michael’s ever green Faith- any which way, it’s a sublime moment of pop. This is followed by the strutting Bowie-at-the-disco blue eyed funk of Panic Station, and in three tracks Muse have signalled they are a band right on top of their game.
There are occasional missteps- I still can’t imagine anyone enjoying the Aryan stomp of Olympics commission Survival. It replaces melody with empty bluster, and makes a great deal of fuss about going nowhere.
The first hint of the much feared/ anticipated dubstep wub comes on Follow Me, where co-producers Nero step up to flex their chart friendly bass bothering credentials. The end result is a stadium ready bro step epic, utterly cohesive with the Muse canon. I can’t help but feel that fans who turn their noses up at this development are being tediously belligerent- Muse’s huge sound proves a natural match for dubstep’s full frequency assault.
More traditional rock can be found numbers such as Liquid State and Big Freeze – the former, a dissection of bass player Chris Wolstenholme’s battles with booze, stepping into Foo Fighters grunge pop territory with some success. And then, on the climactic conclusion, where the band unleash the orchestral shock and awe of Unsustainable, we are back in IMAX territory- sheer, techni-coloured explosions of fun. If Flash Gordon were to psyche himself up to save Earth, we’re betting this is the soundtrack he’d choose. The 2nd Law is a strong album from Muse- commercial yet ambitious, enjoyably bonkers, and packed with an unlikely mix of conspiracy paranoia and chart friendly chorus’s. At times its sprawling, anything-goes approach to genre can threaten to spill over into a mess, and it’s testimony to the bands invention and ability that this is never the case. A success.