Attention, Earth arenas: Muse comes in peace. Matthew Bellamy, my favorite space alien and yours, just wants to teach our backward Earth minds how to rock. Also, they want to remind you that Queen is pretty badass.
The 2nd Law is an album by Muse, for Muse lovers. If you’re of the mind that the band, since reaching the “sold-out stadiums” era, has abandoned itself to excess and bombast, then you’re just never going to like Muse again. With their latest, Bellamy, Christopher Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard are in full disco ball and laser light mode, saddling up for a symphony of futuristic sounds and big, heart-grabbing power hooks. In short, The 2nd Law is Freddie Mercury on a starship.
After the lush overture of “Supremacy,” single “Madness” proves that in space, everyone can hear you wubwubwub. Of course, “Madness” is as much dubstep as Taylor Swift is country at this point, but it’s a victory for drafting the subwoofer into pop servitude. A track with a bare beginning and a sweeping end, it doesn’t sound like anything else on the radio, and not in a Gotye sort of way.
“Panic Station” is a friendly dose of Red Hot Chili Peppers-style raucousness, a terse and funky number that’s about as straightforward as The 2nd Law gets. With a tight beat, tasteful horns and some friendly “whooping” from Bellamy, it’s consciously un-weird.
No doubt at the behest of Queen Bess herself, the Olympic theme “Survival” brings home that classic Muse sound. From fingersnaps to Gothic backing vocals to guitars laden with gravitas, the song is as post-apocalyptic as anything off of Black Holes and Revelations. When you listen to it, you can practically hear Usain Bolt running from a horde of marauding zombies.
“Follow Me” takes more than a few cues from the 30 Seconds to Mars playbook, which is odd because Matthew Bellamy could smoke Jared Leto in any Hunger Games-style deathmatch between leather-jacketed rockstars with a propensity for belting big power notes.
But let’s talk about the Queen influences on The 2nd Law. Comparing Muse to the “Bohemian Rhapsody” legends is not a new trick; it’s an old chestnut. Lo, but hark! What is that, “Explorers”? Your melody veers straight into a riff that sound suspiciously similar to “Don’t Stop Me Now” right in the middle of the song? You rely heavily on piano and choral harmonies? (And that’s even more prevalent on “Survival”?) Your lyrics evoke the same themes of freedom so prevalent in many Queen songs? The 2nd Law has an ever-building anthem called “Save Me”? If you listen, just ever so closely, you can hear the mustache, white tank top and yellow jacket growing over Matthew Bellamy like a second skin. The legitimacy of Muse’s right to the arena throne goes without saying at this point — Brian May may as well hand over the key to the castle. (He probably keeps it in his hair.)
The real treats on The 2nd Law are the final two tracks: “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” and “The 2nd Law: Isolated System.” Sounding like a cocktail of the Kronos Quartet, the theme from “Doctor Who,” your high school physics teacher and Radiohead at their most conceptual, this mini-suite ties the whole package together. An electronic operetta that quotes the Laws of Thermodynamics, it will be the weirdest thing on your jogging playlist.
The 2nd Law once again makes all non-Muse bands look lazy. It’s a high concept, massively realized opus that goes best with a raygun and a thirst for adventure. And, if he were still with us, I’d like to think that Freddie Mercury would be fighting the Martians right alongside Matt, Chris and Dom.
(3) “Panic Station”
(6) “Follow Me”
(12) “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable”
(13) “The 2nd Law: Isolated System.”