The 6th studio album by British rock band Muse, The 2nd Law, (their first in three years since the hit record The Resistance), is a crisp production of 13 songs that marks a departure from the band’s hard rock opera sound. An operatic feel remains, and the carefully orchestrated album features horns and strings, and Muse still has something to say, as they did on the hit “Uprising”, an anthem for 21st century rebellion. But what Muse gains in clarity, they lose in potency. Electronica weakens the music. I’ve listened to The 2nd Law, named for the second law of thermodynamics, a few times. It’s OK.
The booming “Supremacy” opens things up, followed by the most radio-friendly song on the CD, the ballad “Madness.” Then, the album’s energized “Panic Station” gets going and feels derivative of something else. “Survival” and “Follow Me” are both good, and the most affecting song, “Animals,” is an unmitigated attack on capitalism for the Occupy Wall Street mob (“Amortise/Downsize/Lay off/Kill yourself/Come on and do us all a favour”). Tunes about death (“Explorers”) and recovery from alcoholism (“Save Me”) take over and you realize there’s not much to rally around. Muse is experimental, a fact in plain evidence here, dabbling in rock styles and evoking Queen, David Bowie, Bono’s vocals, and Michael Nyman (Gattaca soundtrack) while singing about vengeance and whatnot. Tunes have a generic quality, as if Muse doesn’t mean it. Their sense of detachment is matched by a blended electronic/orchestral musical approach that makes a musically interesting, though thematically bland, record.
The 2nd Law does entertain with sporadically dramatic rock-n-roll melodies. Music is neatly arranged, produced and delivered. But listening to a bestselling rock band – signed to Warner Bros. – composed of rich people denouncing capitalism like a bunch of anarchists and urging Wall Street traders toward suicide hardly feels like rebellious rock-n-roll. In fact, at times, Muse is downright corporate in the worst sense. On their first album since breaking out in 2009, Muse partially succeeds and ultimately lacks spirit.