The 2nd Law is the first Muse album to feature a curse word. Kinda weird, right? You’d think after more than a decade of cranking out distorted riffs and inhabiting characters from space cowboys to dying atheists that lead singer Matt Bellamy would throw out at least one “fuck yeah!” before ripping into a vicious guitar solo by now. Nope, not the case. Not even on HAARP, the band’s live album, in which they had all of Wembley Stadium literally pogoing in a frenzy, did Matt drop an S bomb, a D bomb or any bomb that would give off the impression that the British trio was anything but the most upstanding of gentlemen.
As a result, when Matt Bellamy implores us to do “what the fuck we want to” on “Panic Station,” it feels strangely overbearing. While not inherently bad, the curse is a subtle sign of a frequent issue with Muse’s sixth album. The 2nd Law finds Muse at the peak of their popularity and scraping at the bottom of the barrel. Starved for ideas, the band trots out half-baked gimmick after half-baked gimmick in desperate hope that something will stick and force you to acknowledge its existence. The 2nd Law isn’t just a terrible piece of music; it may be the Great Mid-Life Crisis Album of our time.
The experiments that The 2nd Law has garnered harsh criticism for — the dubstep wub-wubs on “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable,” the errant funk of “Panic Station” — are not heinous in and of themselves. Muse showed that they could effectively pull off white boy funk with “Supermassive Black Hole” from 2006’s Black Holes and Revelations, and if you are just now condemning the group for incorporating electronic elements into their music, I’m guessing you stopped listening right around Showbiz. What really infuriates me about The 2nd Law is that these ideas are put forth with no purpose, shuffled in between egregious rip-offs of Muse’s former selves. “Supremacy” cuts between snare-rolling bombast and bone-dry riffing with little transition, rendering both parts inert. “Big Freeze” is a rewrite of Black Holes’ “Invincible” with slightly different lyrics. “Follow Me” turns Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” into a post-apocalyptic sapfest and “Panic Station” features the musicians who played on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” literally playing the horn section of “Superstition.” All of which is sequenced at random to make a hodgepodge of epically bad taste. As Bellamy himself puts it at one point, “This chaos, it defies imagination.”
But that’s not even the worst part of The 2nd Law. The real obliteration of Muse’s credibility comes in two tracks toward the album’s end. Bassist Chris Wolstenholme sings lead on “Save Me” and “Liquid State,” lending the songs a lifeless quality that makes them by far the blandest tunes Muse have ever committed to disc. In absolute contrast to the incessant huffing and puffing that preceded them, the tracks show that, without the bluster of Bellamy’s vocals, Muse’s current incarnation is no more interesting than the countless other insipid modern prog rock bands wandering about London.
It’s almost perfect that Muse were chosen to write the theme to the 2012 London Olympics. The decline of Muse as one of the last relevant hard rock bands resembles the decline of the British Empire than a Hindenburg or Titanic. I walked into The 2nd Law expecting to be offended so badly I couldn’t help but laugh, but what ended up overwhelming me was a grave indifference. This is not a good sign for an album about thermodynamics, but it’s even worse for a band that you could at least respect for committing to a polarizing idea. Longtime fans are sure to be disappointed by The 2nd Law and I can’t say I particularly care to hear what Muse has left to say. But hey, maybe the three or four EDM fans the band picked up with this release was worth it.