Muse are edgy, deadly sexy, with razor sharp riffs – one of my earliest gigs was seeing them perform 'Microcuts' on the Origin of Symmetry tour. Swirling round in the mosh-pit it was, and still is, one of the heaviest and most exciting gigs I’ve ever been to.
How things have changed. With the release of their sixth studio album, The 2nd Law, Muse can seem unrecognisable from the band of more than ten years ago. I never expected they could “out-Queen” their previous efforts, namely Black Holes and Revelations and The Resistance but new tracks 'Madness' and 'Panic Station' take disco chic to another level with a viscous blend of Prince and Red Hot Chili Peppers-style funk guitar over highly danceable beats, 'Another One Bites The Dust' bass-lines and OTT Yazoo keyboards, it’s like the 80s never ended. And there are more Queen-ish behaviours on ‘Explorers’, which almost note for note, takes the start of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ as its main melody, think: “floating around in ecstasy…” as you listen. But for all this aping, several tracks display the slick grooves normally found on recent Franz Ferdinand records, at their most catchy and accessible – Muse have never been so much fun.
On many tracks, I am irked by Muse’s lyrical sentimentality; by all means, settle down and be a happier band but don’t force it onto the rest of us! I used to love the bizarre passion of Matt Bellamy’s words lyrics veering from love/hate relationships to searing self-examination (all displayed on Origin’s ‘Plug In Baby’) but Muse have grown-up and no doubt their old audience (moi) has also, alongside a growing legion of bright young things drawn-in with every new release and who might never have heard of, or even like first album Showbiz.
Now many of the themes of old have been put to one side and are replaced by generic statements of care and compassion pushing and pulling against veiled critiques of the banking system, much like Pink Floyd’s album of the same name, on ‘Animals’ it closes with barks and yells of stock-market traders, although it could just as easily be a sample from the bickering coalition tearing themselves apart in parliament, and the coming global energy crisis. But perhaps, in times of such economic depression and political malaise we need a little positivity and Muse are certainly the band to deliver this and if half of the album’s conceptual forecast is correct, the world is about to end quite soon (for real this time) so enjoy yourself while you can!
No matter how sentimental, Muse will always sound like themselves and thus different from every other band out there. Give a genius a canvas and you’ll get a masterpiece or a mess; this album falls brilliantly between the two into a niche all its own. Tooting horns, flamenco flourishes and the pull of classical strings all pop in and out of almost every song like madcap ideas blossoming through the crazed and creative genius of Matt Bellamy.
The much touted stabs of dubstep intensity weigh in on ‘Follow Me’, ‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable’ and the clubby-ambience of ‘The 2nd Law: Isolated System’ stand up as perhaps the most genuinely original and direct songs Muse have recorded since the hard rock of their early drop-D tuning years. Although the chasing of trends can seem a tad banal, these songs kick and bite with a bass-heavy ferocity that makes the album rise above a collection of well-meaning experimental doodles.
the band have shown remarkable resilience to changing musical tastes, often reinventing themselves as a matter of course
The only song I really dislike is their lightweight Olympic-hit, ‘Survival’ (actually not written to order for LOCOG, though you’d be forgiven for thinking so, that’s just how tacky it is). For all the Nietzschean verve of the lyrics the song is perhaps the weakest thing Muse have ever written, the music goes nowhere beyond its own vacant bombast and verbal hyperbole.
OK, moan over: The sense of survivalism across the wide spectrum of The 2nd Law is impressive. After bassist Chris Wolstenholme’s recovery from a decade of secretive alcoholism (he wrote and sings both ‘Save Me’ and ‘Liquid State’) and the recent family-man life of Matt Bellamy (who now has a son with Kate Hudson) the band have shown remarkable resilience to changing musical tastes, often reinventing themselves as a matter of course, not as a compromise to the latest musical trends.
Yes, Muse have gradually stepped closer to the mainstream, but then they always threatened to be massive and be popular. Despite the naively patriotic appearance at the Olympics closing ceremony-running through their hometown of Teignmouth with the Olympic torches-Muse can still be subversive and progressive while gradually assuming the somewhat dubious mantle of the people’s rock band. They say all revolutionaries become Conservative over time, but Muse are doing so gracefully, and doing their best to resist and survive the slow crush of entropy and decay.
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