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Some bands hide their pretensions of grandiosity. Muse would not be one of those bands. Like Queen, the British rockers have a flare for the dramatic and their guitars seem to be perpetually set on stun.
On the group’s sixth studio album, “The 2nd Law,” lead singer Matt Bellamy and the band take the listener on a journey surrounded with prog-rock power chords, shrieking vocals and lyrics filled with heavy portent. And that’s just on the album opener, the Led Zeppelin-influenced “Supremacy.”
Muse’s overwrought flamboyance has helped make it one of the most popular touring bands of the last several years. But what works well with 18,000 fervent followers with raised arms in an arena can just sound like too much excess in the confines of an album. With its operatic chants and message about vengeance, explosive first single (and Olympics theme) “Survival” felt more like a parody than a true anthem. The band toned down the theatrics for second single, the synth-poppy “Madness” and was rewarded with a No. 1 tune on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart.
While the album’s volume and thrust is set to 11 the majority of the time, there are moments of loveliness and surprise on “The 2nd Law.” (The album takes its title from The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states a object that keeps growing cannot sustain expansion and will eventually dissolve...or something like that)
“Panic Station” has a sprightly Franz Ferdinand-like bounce that will delight fans of the band’s pop side. The first part of “Animal” features a strong jazz-meet-Rush guitar lead by Bellamy that pierces through the song. On jaunty “Big Freeze,” Bellamy recalls David Bowie on “Heroes.”
“Explorers” is Muse at its most majestic Queen-like, as Bellamy channels Freddie Mercury as he chants “Free me from this world...it was a mistake, prisoning ourselves.” Plus, the lulling piano end will remind any Queen fan of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
For a band that wears so many of its influences on its sleeve, Muse still ends up coming up with its own brand of explosive rock that draws on metal, pop, and, at times here, even funk. Bellamy’s clear, powerhouse vocals tie it all together.
But when Muse gets too inside its own geek-boy mythology, it is severely testing the limits of all but its most devoted fans. On the two-song closing “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” and “The 2nd Law: Isolated System” suite, the noise level ratchets up as a voice actually reads the thermodynamic law.” The cacophony gives way to a “Tubular Bells”-type second movement before the voices come back, filled with doom about an economic collapse (based on the same theory as the law).
“The 2nd Law” will likely have Muse fans salivating over the group’s continued bombastic musical salvos, while non-believers will have plenty more to hold against the band.