Muse appeared to go off the deep end in 2009 when they ditched producer Rich Costley and self-produced The Resistance; a bloated and indulgent fifth album salvaged by a series of stomping stadium anthems. Muse’s much maligned pomposity showed no signs of dissipating in the intervening years as “Neutron Star Collision (Love Is Forever)” and the woefully misjudged Olympic Anthem “Survival” pointed towards a more expansive (and ludicrously ambitious) sound. Despite the trepidation and growing unrest among Muse’s longstanding fanbase The 2nd Law is a confounding triumph.
The heavily rumoured lurch towards “Brostep” is a coy red herring. The deep bass wobbles are used sparingly to beef up the fleeting but thrilling mosher “Unsustainable” and the understated lead single “Madness”. Equally misleading is The 2nd Law’s album opener. Verging on parody, despite it’s beefy “Kashmir” sized riff, “Supremacy” seems like an expert satire of Muse’s paranoid arena rock, complete with a near laughable opening line (“Wake to see your true emancipation is a fantasy”) that Andrew Lloyd Weber who’d consider a little too theatrical. Neither a Brostep conversion, nor a Muse caricature, The 2nd Law instead takes its cues from three beloved influences: Queen, U2, and Radiohead.
Muse’s new modus operandi is to take their core sound and expose it to a series of foreign contagions. “Panic Station” provides the best results. Remarkably dexterous, they manage to mix a slamming walking funk bass line and Stevie Wonder inspired horn section with vocals that recall MJ and Freddie in equal measure – centering the whole affair around a typically Muse mid-track solo. Elsewhere there are stadium sized, dub infused slow builds (“Follow Me”), successful (“Animals”) and unsuccessful (“Explorers”) Radiohead-aping efforts, and a wonderful Muse-ified take on late-80s U2 (“Big Freeze”).
By returning to the sounds central to Absolution Muse manage to meld alongside their newly acquired outside influences, but occasionally they do flounder. “Save Me” feels like a leftover from Elbow’s Build A Rocket Boys while the other Chris Wolstenholme effort “Liquid State” is enjoyable, but struggles to leave an impression despite its weighty subject matter. Ultimately, the missteps are minor and do little to derail an absolute riot of an LP. The 2nd Law might tell us that “Endless Growth Is Unsustainable”, but for Muse wild-eyed gleeful progression might be the only way forward. They’ve thrown everything against the wall on their sixth album, and what sticks more than makes up for what misses. David Hayter