Muse – [Album]

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A couple of years ago, I attended a wedding where the bridesmaids entered, dancing down the aisle, to Muse's "Resistance." "Really?" I thought. "You're already thinking your marriage is 1984?" But of course they weren't. They were thinking "Love is our resistance!" They were thinking, "What a cool song!" And therein lies the problem with Muse.

I had actually never heard of Muse until they were tapped to headline Coachella. I had to ask my younger, hipper friends who this band was. They loaned me some CDs. I liked what I heard, but was, to my surprise, reminded of Queen more than anyone else. Muse also have an extremely talented vocalist, classical influences, operatic flourishes, and over-the-top instrumentations. In other words, like Queen, their music is grandiose.

But they also have a political conscience, something Queen never had (at least not overtly), and there's the problem. Can you pull off grandiose political rock? It seems like an inherent contradiction in terms. Isn't political rock supposed to be basic and raw? When I think political music, I think either folk – Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, or punk – the Clash and Billy Bragg. Like I said, basic and raw. Even someone like Rage Against the Machine, which is a bit more complex, is still raw; the music matches the sentiment of the lyrics. Muse however, with all their sweeping, dramatic and over-the-top theatrics, not only doesn't fit with the sentiments, it overwhelms them. Because of that, you get something like "Resistance" – where the audience doesn't hear the politics, they hear a love song.

This problem is especially noticeable on their new album, The 2nd Law. This is an album where the musical drama never lets up; it may alter its tempo, but it's always there. It starts right off the bat with "Supremacy" (which has a muddled political message – is it about being crushed by totalitarianism, or overthrowing it?), and builds nonstop through the fourth cut, the Olympic theme "Survival" (another muddled message "I'm gonna win!" seems the epitome of rightist politics, not left). There are a couple of lulls, as both "Follow Me" and "Animals" start out mellow, but that's just to set us up for a slow build into another anthem. "Explorers" finally slows the pace down through the whole song, but Matthew Bellamy can't hold back on the vocal dramatics. "Big Freeze" then throws us right back into the drama, and it doesn't let up until the end of the CD. If that's what you're looking for: big sound, orchestral sweep, music to sweep you up and carry you away, The 2nd Law more than delivers.

But, again, the political message(s) get lost in the musical overkill. At times, they remind me of Rush, another band whose message often gets lost in all the noise. This is especially true in the final two cuts, both subtitled "The 2nd Law," obviously the thematic conclusion. The title comes from the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which, a female voice-over helpfully explains on "Unsustainable," states that in a closed system, available energy is always lost through entropy. In other words, a closed system inevitably runs out of energy. Therefore, she explains, "An economy based on endless growth is unsustainable!" But the message is lost in the tidal waves of sound. And, listening to it, all I can think is, "If we're running out of energy, why are you using so much of it to tell us so?"

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed this CD immensely. I just would view it as the grand political statement it seems to want to be. Also, I have to say that there is nothing here as catchy as their past hits. The single, "Madness," is getting a lot of credit for being a stylistic stretch for them (into dubstep), and it's pleasant enough, but I don't see anyone loving it enough to make it their wedding march.



The 2nd Law
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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