By working across a broad spectrum of styles, Britain’s Muse evokes a wide range of reactions. Indisputably, however, it’s one of the few remaining mainstream rock acts to pull off bombast with a real degree of success.
Three years after The Resistance, the trio of school friends is back with The 2nd Law, most notably featuring the London Olympics theme “Survival.” The extravagant track best exemplifies that bombast, playing to its operatic strengths (with a hearty dose of riff rock) like Queen. The rest of The 2nd Law isn’t quite so symphonic, but bits of orchestration are scattered throughout, whether in the horns of the dance-rock “Panic Station,” the harpsichord of “Animals,” or the accoutrements of opener “Supremacy,” which pairs a quasi-polyrhythmic headbanger of a riff with 007-esque strings and a marching snare.
The album’s biggest surprise, meanwhile, is its electronic elements. “Madness” is a step from full-blown electronica; “Follow Me” marries buzzing synths to a rock ballad; and “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” moves from an operatic opening to a squelching dubstep breakdown with string backup. Later in the latter, the strings and programmed synths sprint together in lockstep, creating a sort of semi-symphonic Blade Runner piece.
As with many radio-ready releases, the album’s vocals can be the biggest detraction, from breathy and melodramatic deliveries to cheese in the lyrics. But alternately, they can be compelling and powerful, channeling the likes of Freddie Mercury and Thom Yorke.
Musically, The 2nd Law has more than its share of strengths — none greater than its willingness to take chances.