Sometimes, I think that I ought to cue up the webcam and let my fiance in on reviews. Our banter the other night while playing the Muse single “Madness” was too much fun. I will attempt to do it justice here, but our snark is so joyous that it ought to be broadcast to the masses.
“Snark? Amber, do you not like the new Muse?” A complicated question, gentle reader. Allow me to preface my following reactions by stating that the Muse albums I like best are The Resistance and Absolution. I love Muse in general; I love their sweeping, grand compositions and Matt Bellamy’s voice. I did, however, warn that Kate Hudson was a curse and jokingly tell my fiance that just as the marriage of Raine Maida and Chantal Kreviazuk ruined her career and that of Our Lady Peace via bad cosmic mojo, Hudson would ruin a Muse album or two.
By the band’s own admission, upcoming release The 2nd Law is “radically different”, “draws a line” between their past career and the future, and incorporates electronic elements and brass. Dubstep is obviously in the mix, and right there, I begin to worry. You see, Muse was big before their inclusion on Twilight soundtracks fueling proper promo to ramp them up to stadium stars on both sides of the pond (they’ve always, best I can remember, been one small step below that in North America, but I could be wrong). The Resistance went huge, and rightfully so. You don’t get asked to provide the official song of the Olympics for being shoddy. Herein lies the problem: when something works very well, industry people come calling. They prod around and want more of what will be just as huge. Such interference and sell out tendencies destroyed Finger Eleven’s genius and made them generic pap alt-pop-rock.
What’s huge right now? Dubstep. Trendy, trendy. Why is Muse toying with it now? I’m not a huge fan of dubstep by the way, but I don’t hate it. That said, surely Muse is still Muse… right?
Let’s take a look at three tracks from The 2nd Law and see what the picture is looking like so far…
“The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” was released to the internet by the band and as an advance download for those pre-ordering the album. Beginning with the spectacle and composition found within old Muse works – perhaps even bolder, like a lost score bit for Lord Of The Rings – before dissolving into pure dubstep. The symphonic elements blend back in, but the dubstep maintains control, for the most part. A ‘reporter’ reciting concerns about the second law of thermodynamics is met with robotic “unsustainable” call and response placement.
I know this is part one of a two-track combo on the album, but it’s annoying as all hell. It comes off overly pretentious with the soundbites and the dubstep isn’t inspired by the work of Skrillex; it sounds exactly like Skrillex. I’m really not feeling this at all. It was my first taste of the album and I was genuinely scared that yet another artist was set to let me down.
I’m trying not to judge the album too heavily on “Survival” either, simply because it was written for the Olympics and may have been jammed onto the album. That said, the Queen influence is ridiculously heavy on this one. The first third of the song or so is heavily reminiscent of their work and a little dull. Once the song explodes with guitars and choral voices, it vastly improves and becomes somewhat enjoyable. I like it, but the lyrics are sparse and repetitive even for this band. It’s blatantly an anthem song. I’m thinking that perhaps it should have been tagged on as a bonus track if the band wanted to ensure a release for it. It’s a B-grade track.
Alright, the first single that did not have a specific purpose is “Madness” and thankfully, it’s reassuring. We were calling it “Freddie Mercury’s dubstep years” last night and I think that’s pretty apt. Even the way Bellamy sings is so much like Queen hit “I Want To Break Free” that I can close my eyes and pretend it’s a lost track from that band. “It’s so about Kate Hudson” was our other comment on the tune, and I defy you to argue that it’s not the sequel to “Undisclosed Desires”.
I really wish there were more “real” instruments on these tracks, this one especially. I’m digging the vocal layers and the lyrics, but the constant “m-m-m-m-m-mad-mad” effect is annoying. I’d like it better if it was restricted to the intro and closing. The best part of the tune is the part from about 3:20 to near the end, where that repeating ‘voice’ fades away.
If the album sounds like “Madness” and “Survival” more than “Unsustainable” it could be a good album. The lyrics are what will make or break it, though. In that area, “Survival” bites. I’m also concerned at how these songs will translate to a live show setting. I’m still looking forward to the album, but I’m not confident I’ll love it. Considering how Queen-y this album is, I look forward to Mercury-inspired stagewear as well.
Final Grades: The 2nd Law: Unsustainable – C+; Survival – B+; Madness – A
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