“Muse go dubstep!?!” frothed the internet after the trailer for The 2nd Law was released in June, featuring a whoomp-laden snippet of The 2nd Law: Unsustainable, one half of this fifth album’s closing mini opera, made up of Skrillex sonics, Tubular Bells atmospherics and news snippets about global environmental disasters.
What the trolls forgot is that Muse have always been intrepid envelope pushers, and this was them dipping their toe into cutting-edge new waters as part of an album hell-bent on testing out every possible new dimension.
The album’s theme is classic Muse – the depletion of the planet’s energy resources, the shitty time we’re going to have as a result (wars, famine, economic desperation, general species-wide unpleasantness) and humanity’s triumph in inevitably pulling through. But within this frame, Muse tirelessly re-invent, pushing their operatic leanings to the extremes of Roman galleon slave chants, military battle drums and Brunhilde bombast on Survival and Supremacy.
They also try out 80s pop frivolities: I Want To Break Free solos, Let’s Dance sizzle-beats, Suicide Blonde funk rock and Sledgehammer synths on Madness and Panic Station. You’ll pick up hints of Tinie Tempah, jazz metal, 80s Genesis and George Michael’s Faith. Cohesion be damned – Muse are alchemising.
Bassist Chris Wolsthenholme even writes and sings two tracks inspired by his fight against alcoholism – Liquid State and Save Me. The lack of Matt Bellamy’s histrionic warbles here seems to mute Muse, but it proves them to be a band with no fixed limits or methods, and The 2nd Law finds them mid-evolutionary leap.
If they’re soon transformed into some new species of dub-rock behemoth, it’ll be a spectacular specimen.