Muse still chasing its ‘Origins,’ still failing to catch them

Jack H. Evans

I can almost guarantee that every single one of you reading this article has at least heard a Queen song. I’m also quite sure that most of you have at least some of their catalog on your iPods or in CD or even vinyl form. And that’s because Freddie Mercury was a golden god among men – one of the greatest vocalists, composers, and musicians of all time. Matthew Bellamy is not Freddie Mercury. When, in 2001, Muse released Origin of Symmetry, undeniably one of the greatest rock albums of this generation, many thought that the guitarist/frontman/mastermind might be able to become a parallel to the Queen genius, a savior of the mainstream music world, and they had good reason: a piano-arpeggio-into-schizophrenic-rock-masterpiece in “New Born,” an Earth-shattering rendition of a jazz standard in “Feeling Good,” and not to mention a decade-defining riff in “Plug-in Baby.” Then the hope started to dwindle. Absolution was good but not as good, Black Holes and Revelations had some exciting tracks but some filler as well, The Resistance proved to be the low point in their career, dishing out a handful of forgettable tunes. The 2nd Law, which sees Muse experimenting with different sounds and structures, is, if nothing else, better than The Resistance. When the first trailer The 2nd Law was released, the whole “MUSE GOES DUBSTEP” thing spread around music forums like an incessant virus. As it turns out, the electronic influences on the album aren’t as prevalent as some had hoped (and others had feared), but they do add a much needed dimension. On “Follow Me,” Muse enlist producer Nero to drop a chugging synth-and-bass beat, and “Madness” comes complete with a repetitious vocal sample and companion phasing bass line. The most evident influences of electronic music – and dubstep in particular – manifest in the two-part “title track” that closes the album. “The Second Law: Unsustainable” and “The Second Law: Isolated System” overflow with dubstep flourishes, orchestral strings, and robotic female spoken word lines. It’s because of these things that the tracks don’t sound like they belong on a Muse album at all, but they’re a welcome contribution to a disappointingly dull record. “Madness” and “Follow Me,” despite the dynamics, aren’t particularly great songs: they aren’t unbearable; it’s just that they don’t stand out much at all. There are only a couple of total throwaways on the album: “Big Freeze” feels like lazy regression wrapped in an echoing, U2-ish guitar riff, and “Explorers” is the cheesiest, most boring ballad – or song in general – Muse has ever recorded. The fact that it culminates in Bellamy bidding you to “Go to sleep” and fading out on its twinkling, television-musical piano with the frontman uttering a soft “shhhhhh” is enough to ruin the whole album. The other songs on The 2nd Law have their moments, but none qualify as classics. Opener “Supremacy” starts with triumphant guitar chords, awkwardly meanders into a hushed vocal section backed by snare and timpani that sounds more like bad musical theater, hits an epic vocal climax, and drops into James Bond spy riffage in the span of less than two and a half minutes. Many of the songs see Bellamy satisfying his Queen obsession, none more so than “Panic Station,” which, with the funky drums and swaggering bass line, sounds like a rewrite of “Another One Bites the Dust,” and “Survival,” which is quite obviously what Bellamy sees as his groups “We Are the Champions” (albeit with some pretty impressive metal-infused guitar). The lyrics often showcase Bellamy’s ego (“Life’s a race, and I’m gonna win/Yes, I’m gonna win, and I’ll light the fuse, and I’ll never lose” from “Survival”) or come across as taking themselves too seriously, as in “Madness” or the title tracks or – gulp – “Explorers.” The two best songs on The 2nd Law might be “Animals” and “Liquid State.” Throughout “Animals,” full, glossy keyboard dances smoothly on top of Dominic Howard’s laid-back drum beat and Chris Wolstenholme’s proggy bass as Bellamy mixes in smooth, Spanish-influenced guitar leads. Meanwhile, “Liquid State” sees Wolstenholme contributing lead vocals and songwriting, showcasing not only his distinctive bass style but also his hitherto untapped vocal talent, making it the most interesting thing Muse has done with a vocal since “Supermassive Black Hole.” It’s because of this, rather than despite it, that “Liquid State” is by far one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album. But why is it that Matt Bellamy isn’t Freddie Mercury? The answer is simple: listen to three songs from Queen’s catalog at random – say, “Somebody to Love,” “Stone Cold Crazy,” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” – and you’ll see that, in terms of composition and singing ability, Freddie Mercury wasn’t predictable whatsoever. Meanwhile, Bellamy – despite his vocal range, despite his guitar and piano abilities, despite his skill as a composer – has little vocal and guitar dynamics and seems to have rendered himself useless of writing a song that isn’t based on a major chord progression leading up to a crescendo. None of this is to say that The 2nd Law is a bad album, because it’s not. Almost all the songs have good qualities (almost because of “Explorers), and “Animals” could even go toe-to-toe with the lesser Origin of Symmetry tracks. But in a world where music no longer needs saving, Matt Bellamy still wants to be a superhero, and it’s the egotism and seriousness on the album that make it almost silly. Overall Rating: 6/10 Jack H. Evans is the entertainment editor for The Bark. Follow The Bark on Twitter@BeardenBARK and like The Bark (Bearden High School) on Facebook.