It's been three years since Muse, arguably the most popular band on Planet Earth, released an album, and it's been even longer since they released one as confident and as loud as The 2nd Law. This is the sixth album by the three-piece band from England, and after a lackluster effort mired by experimentation, a slavish determination to be the next Queen and a three-part symphonic exercise that can only be described with the oxymoron "ambitious laziness," Muse has released a record that stands as evidence for their massive popularity worldwide.
As a follow-up to The Resistance, The 2nd Law is like a mirror-image of the prior album, in that it's good because it's precisely what The Resistance wasn't. While "Uprising", the first song from the former, was a radio-friendly generic rock song, "Supremacy" aims to blow up your car speakers with Christopher Wolstenholme's heavy power chords anchored by Matthew Bellamy's ethereal wail.
Where "Undisclosed Desires" tried to stretch the arena-rock band's range with synth dance-grooves, "Panic Station" fuses Stevie Wonder-inspired synths with a funky bass line that gives birth to a legitimately groovy dance-rock tune. "United States of Eurasia", the anchor track to The Resistance, was like a bad imitation of Queen's contribution to Highlander (the overwrought "Who Wants to Live Forever?"). "Survival," The 2nd Law's first single, wears its "Bohemian Rhapsody" influences on its sleeve yet could fit right into Absolution-period Muse and not be out of place.
All that being said, this is by no means a perfect album, a mountain that Muse has yet to fully conquer. In many ways, the band is too ambitious for its own good to pull off a perfect album; not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.
Towards the end of the LP, Bellamy surprisingly surrenders the creative spotlight to Wolstenholme, who bears his personal demons on "Save Me" and "Liquid State". Not to belittle Wolstenholme's courage to openly write about his battles with alcoholism, but Muse has always been been defined by Bellamy's creative sensibilities, and as a result both songs sound like they came from another band entirely; the former is a ballad that Wolstenholme's limited vocal range simply can't live up to, while the latter might sound like the result of a booze-fueled collaborative effort between Placebo and Lamb of God.
Wolstenholme's creative output and the final two tracks of The 2nd Law serve to underscore the overall theme of the album, which is one of transition and creative growth. Clearly, Bellamy and Co. realized sometime around The Resistance that they had taken their current sound as far as it could go, and so have embraced new influences to fight back the forces of entropy that plagued other bands over the course of a career that so far has lasted more than a decade.
As absurd as it for Muse to embrace a genre as devoid of creativity as dubstep, they manage to merge their distinctive sound with the discordant noise of dubstep in a way that actually better serves the both of them. Bellamy wisely isolates his current fascination with Skrillex within one song ("The 2nd Law: Unsustainable"), and even then for no longer than a minute (which is approximately the exact amount of time a sane person could listen to dubstep without smashing the nearest heavy object).
As a whole, The 2nd Law isn't much of a stretch lyrically, as Bellamy remains infatuated by high-concepts such as human advancement, space exploration, a dying planet and other types of mass-market science-fiction, but musically Muse has charted new territory as a rock band, and may have truly earned their reputation as the world's most popular rock band.
Check out all the lyrics and explanations for Muse's The 2nd Law on Stereo IQ:
Muse - The 2nd Law: Unsustainable Lyrics
Muse -- "Animals" Lyrics
Muse -- "Big Freeze" Lyrics
Muse -- "Explorers" Lyrics
Muse -- "Follow Me" Lyrics
Muse -- "Liquid State" Lyrics
Muse -- "Madness" Lyrics
Muse -- "Panic Station" Lyrics
Muse -- "Save Me" Lyrics
Muse -- "Supremacy" Lyrics
Muse -- "Survival" Lyrics