Throughout five studio albums, Muse has wooed fans with sheer musical talent and an uncanny ability for reinvention. For the risks they’ve taken — from the infectious dance hit “Supermassive Black Hole” to the sprawling symphony “Exogenesis” — they’ve been rewarded with much-deserved success. Unfortunately, “The 2nd Law,” Muse’s highly anticipated latest release, falls flat. The album’s production is glossy and its scope massive, but the loose collection of mostly unglued or cliché songs remains ultimately unmemorable.
The album begins with “Supremacy,” whose huge, crunchy opening guitar chords promise some good clean Muse fun. But the song quickly becomes stale, morphing into what sounds like the soundtrack for the opening credits of the next James Bond film.
Next is “Madness,” the first official single from the album. It is catchy in its simplicity, but amid the electronic backtrack, Muse sounds more like a DJ than a band. A groovy guitar solo saves the song from total dismissal. “Panic Station” is a breath of fresh air; the stripped-down hard rock style, reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand, is an inkling of what Muse could have been.
“Survival” was chosen as the official Olympics theme song, and, with the song’s bluntly motivational lyrics backed by punchy operatic accents, it’s easy to see why. However, the lyrics (“Yes I’m gonna win/And I’ll light the fuse/I’ll never lose”) are hardly poetry, making for a mediocre song.
The middle section of the album tries harder, but still fails. “Follow Me” begins with swirling electronic bleeps but eventually dumps us into an unremarkable anthem. “Animals” is a solitary high point, featuring a relaxed drum groove and meandering guitar part that winds its way through the verses. “Big Freeze” tries to serve as the “Starlight” of this album, but its pop nature is not supported by interesting instrumental lines, and only a brilliant yet short-lived guitar solo really stands out.
“The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” features the biggest surprise of the album yet. After a garbled sample of a newscaster from an apocalyptic world, Muse unleashes a full-fledged, unabashed dubstep drop. Dubstep?! It’s almost humorous.
On the last track, “The 2nd Law: Isolated System,” layers of instrumentation are patiently added onto a minimalistic piano line for a wonderfully atmospheric effect. Just when Muse’s brilliance might be finally showing itself, the album comes to an anticlimactic end with a fading mechanical whir.
“The 2nd Law” leaves me wondering whether Muse has simply run out of steam, or whether they have become too starstruck with their own success to stay true to what they were before. After just over 50 minutes of the album, I couldn’t help but glance forlornly at my Muse poster and feel betrayed.