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ALBUM OF THE MONTH: MUSE - THE 2ND LAW - REVIEW BY CALLUM BARNES

 
Back in 1999 three men from Teignmouth, in Devon, UK, were considered to be the laughing stock of the music industry. With the release of their debut album Showbiz, Matthew Bellamy, Dominic Howard and Christopher Wolstenholme had created what - in the critics eyes - was basically “The Bends” part 2. Comparisons to Radiohead were constantly being made and most critics simply thought that this band was a wash up of the decline in guitar bands, the death of Britpop and Nirvana before that. How very, very wrong they were.

The year is 2007. Imagine the feeling you have when your favourite childhood band are the first act to play the newly built Wembley Stadium. You watch the footage, the band rising on a pedestal in the middle of the crowd, walking to the stage and then launching into Knights Of Cydonia and then, you think.....no-one predicted this. Even as a massive fan, I thought “Absolution” would be the bands peak, I mean, that used orchestra's, opera, metal, riffs, piano solo's- everything Muse were ever capable of and more. This opens up my eyes now. More than it did back then. Bellamy stated around this time that “the band could go into infinity”. It looks even more realistic that this could indeed be happening. Muse then went on to conquer the stadium circuit a second time, in support of their 2009 album The Resistance- which was patchy. Possibly the worst album they've ever released. I mean, it wasn't horrible, it just lacked crunch- all seemed a bit wimpy in its production, though the Exogenesis Symphony as the concluding three tracks really brought to light how Matt and the band as a whole have been able to change their styles to fit the mood. So as a big fan of the BIG side of Muse, of the old them, the riffs, the craziness, the high pitched falsetto- The 2nd Law wasn't looking too good. The Resistance was very pop, Black Holes and Revelations was very prog, and between them both they had their moments but I just wanted something back, something that would show me that my childhood faves still had something useful to give to me, musically. Well……lets some it up in one word SUPREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEMMMMMMMMMMMMACCCCCCCCCCyyyyCCCCYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY”. YYYYYYY - You are reading the sound of Matt Bellamy letting out one of his finest vocal bursts during the opening track- “Supremacy”. I mean, its obviously a Bond-theme inspired romp through 7 string guitars, orchestral quiet moments and shrieking hallelujahs, but this is MUCH better than the majority of the last album as a whole.

Now this album is basically made up of every idea Muse have ever had or wanted to have. There's many things that definitely ring true towards some previous, well known, classic artists but Muse are basically making their mark up there with them. Electronically, the album features two primary numbers- “Follow Me” and “Madness”. “Follow Me” (produced by Nero) has a generic dubstep feature to it and nothing in the song is played with organic instrumentation. However, “Madness” is easily the strongest effort Muse have created in this field- the story of an argument between Bellamy and his celeb girlfriend Kate Hudson and how the resolving factor is love. N'awwww. Probably the most personal and un-politically related thoughts the frontman has expressed since “Unintended” on the first album, it also features a nicely executed distortion guitar solo. Wolstenholme gets to flex his bassy paws on the bouncy, fun filled “Panic Station” which is almost entirely made up of a beefy slap rhythm against the 4 string. Tasty. The real sound of a band enjoying themselves, as trumpets jump into the mix and funky Frusciante-esque guitar lines, this is what some previous albums were lacking for sure. Also check out the vocal bursts going on this track- was Matt just born a combo of Thom Yorke and Jeff Buckley?

We're all familiar with Survival and chances are we've all criticised its lyrical structure. Its basic but perhaps not entirely poor. I mean, its easy for all countries to understand what is being got at and its the idea of winning which will always be the main entity of the Olympic Games, but musically. Wow. Bellamy switching from keys to shredding like its New Born and 2001 all over again, and over the top guitar solo's to boot as well as choirs of bellowing males?

This is exactly what I wanted from such a track. “Animals” and “Big Freeze” provide two different guitar-based numbers to the already mixed pot we have here. The former is a slowly building spat against the bankers of Wall Street while the latter is a (definitely U2 inspired) light-hearted approach to relationship tensions which a guitar chord progression like a tamed “Map of the Problematique”. Its just a shame that the album now falls here and with the addition that I thought would be extremely healthy for the band. Chris' additions. He's always done great backing vocals but here, it just doesn't quite cut it. And “Save Me” is really dull. Muse always had the edge with Matt's trademark vocal range and quite unique approach to the wordsmith role, but now both “Save Me” and “Liquid Sate” seem a bit lifeless. I understand that they're both about the bassists struggles with alcohol and how he has managed to finally kick the addiction in the ass, but this doesn't seem to come across very strongly here. Thank god that Bellamy can drag it back with the most controversial number yet- “Unsustainable”. First time I heard it, I thought it was weak. Fifteenth time. Wow. And still counting. The orchestral scores for this song blow my mind. Its so post-modern it nearly hurts. The idea of classical mixing with a new movement such as dubstep (played with shrieking Muse edge and real instrumentation mind) would be a move to avoid for any band. On top of that having no real lyrics, just a news reporter worrying us all about the unsustainable nature of our planet. Excellent. And if that wasn't enough, “Isolated System” sends us the way of “Absolution” with a gorgeous soundscape that incorporates electronic and organic elements- to make us ask, what really could Muse do now?

Acoustic album anyone? Because their back catalogue just got near-exhaustingly good.

http://muse.mu