The 2nd Law

"There’s still a few of them left" thought Matt Bellamy bitterly as he surveyed the Reading Festival crowd in 2011, dark thoughts rudely interrupting the throbbing swell in his trousers brought on by shocks from the Kaoss pad crudely fitted to the front of his Manson guitar. That was how he reasoned it to the rest of Muse anyway; in reality this on-stage physical manifestation of his undisclosed desires came from an overpowering sense of self-satisfaction, of the knowledge that, five years after he broke into John Deacon’s home and stole the last untampered bottle of Essence of Bulsara’s Legacy for 2006’s ‘Knights Of Cydonia’, he was still getting away with the slurry-filled repackaging of some of rock’s more grandiose moments with current flavours of the month and passing it off as invention.

Not just getting away with it either; Muse were flourishing. With each new album they were playing to more people, the only place big enough contain them now was … space? He used to talk a lot of shit about space back in the old days, throwing conspiracy theorists names like Zecharia Stitchin at journalists, and laughing in that weird high-pitched gulping way of his that sounded like a dog trying not to retch, as he tried to explain the existence of aliens and their threat to mankind. He’d not really meant any of it, they never had; he could churn out these banal conversational and lyrical oddities out in his sleep and they’d still get paid a fuckload to pretend at being an experimental mainstream rock band.  

Yep, the only blemish on his happiness was them. They lurked, gaunt of complexion, clad in black hoodies that adorned the words of albums long-since banished from being mentioned at Muse HQ like Showbiz and, after tonight’s show, Origin Of Symmetry. They were the few who’d resisted brainwashing, complaining bitterly under YouTube videos, on blogs and social networking that their beloved trio would rather keep company with The Spice Girls and Maroon 5 than the ageing titans of American rock they used to like Deftones and the Smashing Pumpkins. He sighed as his erection fell limp. "We’re really going to have to fuck them off with this next album," he muttered under his breath…

And so they have. The 2nd Law is the album that will finally bludgeon heads filled with lingering memories of songs like ‘Muscle Museum’, ‘Hyper Music’ and ‘Micro Cuts’; Reading Festival in 2011 saw the band do what Radiohead probably should’ve done to avoid constant comparisons with their earlier work, when they played Origin Of Symmetry in full and thus effectively drew a line underneath it. Now, with their sixth LP, we’re fully into a world where ghosts of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’, Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars The Bringer Of War’ and the James Bond theme tune emerge within the first song of the album alone; where they decide to alter Queen’s (who else) ‘I Want To Break Free’ so that it sounds like it’s being fed out of an old dot matrix printer whilst their diminutive front man does the same "let me sex you" style singing that he employed to cringeworthy effect on some of previous album The Resistance.

It’s a frankly bewildering place, one where incongruous touchstones are flung at the listener thick and fast. Ever wanted to know what U2’s stadium anthemia, the late 80s disco pop of Pet Shop Boys and the US ‘brostep’ of 2012 thrown together sound like? Muse seemed to as well, fleetingly on ‘Follow Me’, but they’d clearly got bored and moved on by the time of the triumvirate’s inevitably unholy mess. How about some of INXS’ more overbearing sheen with New Order’s less dignified acid house moments? It’s there for you on ‘Panic Stations’. Heck, they career around genres so carelessly on The 2nd Law that they’re even redoing their own songs without realising it; ‘Explorers’ is but lyrics away from the chorus of 2006’s ‘Invincible’; ‘Survival’ is a bigger, brasher though lyrically lazier version of ‘United States Of Eurasia’. This isn’t an album; it’s a series of OCD thoughts thrown together in passing, the only sense of cohesion coming during a rare chance for bassist Chris Wolstenholme to take centre stage on vocals, for the back-to-back balladeering soft-rock of ‘Save Me’ and Foo Fighters-influenced guitar chug of ‘Liquid State’.

Dotting around bits of this largely unpalatable gunk are snippets of crowd noises from unspecified riots and news bulletins just to remind us that Bad Things are happening in the world. Muse have always had a vague message against The Man, even when The Man pays them an awful lot of money and allows them to be the sound of big corporate sports days. When these spoken word parts appear, it’s as if you’re listening in to some sort of bite-size kids’ news programme, to the extent that it was surprising that the video for the band’s, ahem, dubstep single ‘Unsustainable’ didn’t have brightly coloured pop-up boxes appearing and spouting inane facts like "Did You Know? A survey of the people of Syria found 36% said their favourite X Factor judge was Tulisa" just to get the youth interested in real issues. They generally treat the world’s impending ills the same way Hollywood film makers do: a good premise for making big explosions and cool effects.

This has long been the point of the band now, beyond becoming hugely commercially successful (an ambition that’s prevailed right from when they were releasing their first singles on two CDs, each one containing slight variations in the tracklisting, causing diehards to buy both.) Muse are currently the best operating trolls in music, a band knowingly aware of how many people will baulk at the unfathomable mix of elements that make up these tracks and gleefully continue regardless. If you don’t like it you’re po-faced and no fun, is the message from many of their current fans, and yes, at times you can’t help but smile at their sheer gall. ‘Supremacy’ is enjoyably silly with its big strings and 60s action B-movie feel, ‘Survival’s’ Olympic soundtrack causes a giggle in spite of Bellamy’s wholly predictable lyrics about running races and refusing to lose. Yet gall alone does not a good band make, although current evidence suggests it makes a successful one. Either way, their frontman need not worry about gripes and complaints from fans of a decade ago, they’ll have long since bolted. Well played Matt, keep on tugging.   

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