JOPLIN, Mo. —
As I wrote in August, I’m not sure why I pre-ordered Muse’s newest album, “The 2nd Law,” because iTunes streamed it for free a week before its release. That means I got an additional week to listen to the new album, and have some great conversation about it.
I’ve already talked about how much I loved the two pre-released songs on the album that got me to pre-order: “Madness” and “Survival.” Those are the two strongest songs on the album, and others aren’t far behind.
Back in August, I wrote that Muse often gets criticized as a musical Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup made of Radiohead and Queen. Muse has arguably mastered this combination, making it into its unique sound.
And in its typical fashion, musical influences are clearly heard, including an overall ’80s sound in the album’s front half:
- “Panic Station” is just a few grunts and drumstick clicks away from being an INXS song circa “Kick.” Not that that’s a bad thing. That album was epic 20 years before we were all saying “epic.” (Tip o’ the hat to Justin Watt for nailing the INXS sound.)
- “Supremacy” sounds like it could be the theme for the upcoming James Bond movie, especially if that movie was set in 1880s Texas. (Another tip o’ the hat to Jake Forste for hearing that.)
- The band promised a Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” sound in “Save Me,” and it delivers. So, if that’s your thing, enjoy it.
- The Queen part is much more prevalent in this album in “Madness,” “Survival,” “Big Freeze” and “Explorers.” The guitar solo in “Madness” channels Queen guitarist Brian May.
- Despite all the ’80s throwbacks, modern sounds are also featured. Skrillex-style dubstep makes an appearance in “Follow Me” and “Unsustainable.”
The verdict among my Muse-fan friends is overall positive, with some exceptions.
Nikki, the fellow fan (or phellow phan, in honor of her phavorite Philadelphia Phillies that won’t make the playophphs this year -- sorry) I mentioned in August, is pretty smitten with the album -- especially Matthew Bellamy’s vocals, which she calls “absolute perfection.” I can buy that. Once compared to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, his behind-the-beat, elongated singing style is dynamic and emotional, even when he’s in full rock-god cheeseball falsetto.
Others felt the album was “pretty craptastic,” “crap” and “so bad.” Not sure I agree with those notions. But one pretty solid criticism was raised by a new Facebook friend, Ryan Richardson: “Everyone thinks Muse is this super-unique band, and I’m still not sure how they got as big as they did. Every album seems so derivative.”
I can buy that, to a point. The influences sometimes overshadow the overall sound, and push the album toward sounding gimmicky.
Finally sounding like Muse
Still, the album is a massive improvement over “The Resistance,” and I’m pretty happy with it. It listens from front to back much better, in a style reminiscent of “Black Holes and Revelations.”
For all the talk about Muse being derivative, the members are amazing musicians and powerful songwriters. All the influences that they showcase are a testament to their talent.
They have an ear for symphonic arrangements, and bring that sensibility to each song, to the point where the songs are finally starting to sound like Muse songs. Even with all those clear influences, from INXS to Skrillex, it all still sounds unquestionably, undoubtedly like Muse.
My only disappointment is that “The 2nd Law” is nothing like “Absolution,” my favorite Muse album. That one featured an addictive combination of emotional rock and ambient chords, and best showcased the band’s creativity and prowess.
But overall, I’m pretty happy with “The 2nd Law.” It’s a satisfying mix of past and present sounds, and has a good sense of balance between bombast and restraint.