Monday, October 1, 2012

Review: Muse - The 2nd Law

Courtesy of Muse
Few would accuse Muse's newest studio offering--released October 1st--as being their most groundbreaking work. Yet it surely continues the successful formula which they've ridden to the top: kicking serious ass

The gut-busting begins in earnest with Supremacy, a fitting choice for an opener with its guitar scratching, earth-scorching bombast. The stakes are raised almost immediately upon the introduction of a full orchestral accompaniment.  Cue the choir and it's clear that England's favorite hard rock act is setting the controls for the heart of the sun. All of the usual suspects that we've come to associate with the band are on full display, from frontman Matthew Bellamy's operatic falsetto, to the deep, dark riffs  that he so often whips into a frenetic crescendo. It concludes with a twang of whimsical arpeggio, summoning the listener on the aural odyssey to follow.

The voyage veers off-path in a hurry with Madness, their most recent single, and an obvious departure from their tried and true stylings. Decidedly more Pop than Prog, the track finds Bellamy crooning in a sorta futuristic R+ B manner. While not at all what I have come to expect from the power trio, the song is undeniably catchy, beginning with rhythmic electro-bass pulses and building upon itself with purpose as it unfolds. Slowly it gives way to a brief-yet-blistering solo where we find Bellamy channeling his inner May before culminating in a triumphant, emotional climax. It somehow becomes more profound upon sequential encounters. 

Courtesy of Will Ireland/Getty Images
Next up is a dirty little wallop known as Panic Station, featuring a full-on horn section (from the same folks  that brought you the legendary hook in Stevie Wonder's "Superstition"). Bassist Chris Wolstenholme slaps out a driving groove that provides a firm foundation for the intoxicating funk that Bellamy layers on top.  The brass, riffing repeatedly throughout the chorus, melds itself effortlessly into the sonic landscape.  

The mood shifts drastically as the album explores the symphonic grandeur necessary to prelude an olympic anthem. A swinging piano riff emerges, accompanied by the metered cadence of an extended choir and an occasional sopranic flight of fancy. Such is the pomp and circumstance that defines Survival. The official song of London's 2012 games is wrought with such over-the-top delivery that--if  the lead singer's heritage was anything aside from Anglican--we'd have to question wether or not he was putting us on. 

Chris Wolstenholme, Matthew Bellamy and Dominic Howard
The remainder of the album tinkers with the more common trappings of contemporary music, like the dubstep-minded hook in the otherwise pedestrian Follow Me, or the Radiohead-inspired polyrhythms of the melancholic Animals.

Save Me and Liquid State are notable entries. Penned by Wolstenholme and chronicling his struggle with alcoholism, they showcase a surprisingly infectious timbre. As impassioned as his delivery is, the songs are as memorable for what they aren't. Bellamy's trademark wailing has become such a fixture of the Muse sound that these numbers could be mistakenly attributed to another band altogether. 

The chaotic immensity more familiar to the band reemerges in spades for the conclusion of their sixth studio album. The title track is broken down into a two-part suite, as ominous as it is ultramodern. Unleashing a salvo against the insatiable desires of man, Muse continues to weave the thread of social commentary into the core of their music, as they have from the beginning. "A species set on endless growth is unsustainable," we are warned. Begging the question, 'where do we go from here?' If the melodic finale of The 2nd Law serves as any indicator, a rendezvous with post-apocalyptic minimalism is unavoidable. It's not a groundbreaking notion, but that doesn't make it any less provocative.

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