Muse: The 2nd Law

The 2nd Law
(Warner Bros.)

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Muse has been one of the last bastions of large-scale, mountain-leveling arena rock for the past few years, which is why the band’s continuing downward spiral is all the more disappointing.

I remember when this group was a fireball of frenetic energy and smashed guitars, but since as far back as 2006, and most especially since 2009’s The Resistance, the band has gradually eschewed their rock bombast for increasingly lame radio-ready electro-pop and one-dimensional rockers.

The 2nd Law contains some winning moments, but is nowhere near the heights they’re capable of. It’s front-loaded with its most energetic and bombastic prog-rock numbers – despite its grand horn and orchestral flourishes, “Supremacy” actually has them sounding like a rock band again, Matthew Bellamy’s histrionic falsetto vocals and “Live and Let Die”-esque breakdown and all. “Madness” is set atop a throbbing synth bass and stuttery vocal hook, and is probably one of the band’s best pop singles, while “Panic Station” is all out slap-bass funk rock, Muse-style.

But just after the hilariously overblown and impossible-to-take-seriously Queen rip-off “Survival” (which belongs in an action-comedy film montage), the album dives into middle-of-the-road pop music that could just as easily come from anyone; only the subdued menace of the anti-fat-cat “Animals” provides some relief.

Bassist Chris Wolstenholme sings lead vocals on two back-to-back tracks on the later half of the album – the bland ballad “Save Me,” and dull rocker “Liquid State” – which, despite his fine voice, don’t seem to do anything interesting; a problem throughout this album, even on the before-mentioned Bellamy-led rockers.

It’s only for the mostly instrumental two-part title track where Muse finally offers a glimpse of what it’s capable of. “Unsustainable” melds doomsday sound bytes and furious orchestral and vocal arrangements with an all out dub-step attack that is a genuine surprise and shot of vitality, while “Isolated System” is the more grim, somber coda.

They only serve to illustrate how much the group is holding back elsewhere by serving up mostly uninspired, endlessly retread arena rock and pop ballads when they could be going all-out bonkers. They used to do it so well.

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About John Mordecai

John Mordecai is a musician and writer from New Haven, Conn. He was the bassist for Brooklyn-based ERAAS (formerly APSE), and also plays (sometimes) in New England-based Shark and Brooklyn's The Tyler Trudeau Attempt. He also maintains a blog (sometimes) at http://selfsensored.wordpress.com/
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