Every summer has it’s anthem – the one song that captures the public attention, which can’t be stopped being played or sung in public. Of course, Gangnam Style may be the obvious choice for such an prize, but, in fact, it was a high-paced frantic sci-fi song from a Devon-based rock band that should get the honour with Muse’s official London 2012 track. Love it or hate, the amount of times we heard it; ‘Survival’ was 2012’s signature song, literally.
Despite my initial distaste for the song, it has somewhat grown on me; no doubt helped by the stirring images of olympic action that played in the official Olympic Video from the games. Okay, so it may be a fairly Queenish rip-off with its choral backing chants and yes, the lyrics may be fairly shallow – “I’m going to win”, “I’ll keep up the pace” and “It’s a race” (what a rhyme) in a song about sport are not the most inventive or subtle – but it posses the classic sci-fi themed bombast and overdramatic flamboyance that Muse thrives in.
In fact, the single is actually one of the high points of Muse’s new album titled The 2nd Law. Indeed, it quickly goes downhill with ‘Madness’; released as the album’s second promo single. The track is the completely opposite of ‘Survival’; a soft rock song with dubstep pulse throughout. Is it madness? Well, madness that Muse would take a dramatic venture towards catchy crisp pop music. Okay, it does dramatically improve a minute from the end, waving goodbye to Bellamy’s Maroon 5-esque crooning and Skrillex-lite dub repetition, but, in reality, its difficult to disagree with Dan Flynn’s assessment that the song sounds like a “joke”; it is one of the worst Muse songs in existence. Chris Martin said it was the best Muse ever though, so what do I know?
The dubstep theme, however, is one that unfortunately maintains its way throughout. ‘Follow Me’ is a sort of Pet Shop Boys disco pop mix with robotic aggressive dub-step. It reaches its Skillrex-induced peak with ‘Unsustainable’; words escape for how clearly Muse have jumped onto the dubstep bandwagon – it even has a drop. The song is bass-ridden with tribal drums and ominous operatic voices interspersed with Bellamy wails and snippets of end-of-the-world news bulletins. I’m unsure what the role of these are, except to believe Muse is some great against the authority kind-of-man, somewhat ignoring their corporate label and mainstream sound. Even stranger, this then moves onto ‘Isolated System’ which is pretty much a lighter version of ‘Unsustainable’ with electro and flowing rhythms aplenty; they even kept in the fictional news-pieces so we don’t forget how bad the world is.
‘Liquid State’ doesn’t improve the situation either with Muse having a surprise in store for this one with Chris Wolstenholme forgoing his position of bridesmaid bassist by taking over vocal duties. A bit of experimentation is always good and many bands of differing genres have prospered with multiple singers – Arcade Fire, The xx , The Clash to name a few. However, I’m just going to say it plain and simple; the two songs where Wolstenholme takes lead are utter dross.
The aforementioned ‘Liquid State’ sounds like a Pendulum rip-off; not of one of their drum and bass outfit’s big-hitting singles (bad enough), however; but of a b-side that got thrown away for only the hardcore few to listen to. Yes, it’s that bad. Wolstenholme swoons unabashed lyrics – “Kick me when I’m down / Feed me poison, for me till I drown” – over the fluid bashing of QOTSA guitars; the worst thing about it is that Wolstenholme seems to have no emotion in his voice, limping through the song. His crooning on ‘Save Me’, a sort of Fray-based ballad, is even worse.
Maybe my harshness is undeserved; the songs are concerning Wolstenholme’s battle with being an alcoholic and Muse hardly do the music that suits the emotional outpouring of a man’s personal story. But, ironically, the only time where these songs are palatable would be in a alcohol-induced state.
What then of the good? ‘Panic Station’ is, at the very least, interesting with its Stevie Wonder-esque funk backing with Bellamy wailing like Michael Jackson. ‘Animals’ also sees a different direction of twinkling pro-rock piano; it’s Muse of the Showbiz era and, in this mix, it sounds great. However, these are spread between the dreamy (and dreary) ballad that is ‘Explorers’; it sounds like a song Muse could of pulled off a few years ago, but just ends up being dull.
Somehow, when listening to the album, it moves onto ‘Knights of Cydonia’ – the 6-minute odyssey that closes Muse’s masterpiece Black Holes & Revelations – and it becomes apparent just how poor The 2nd Law really is with even the best songs on the album failing in comparison. If that was Muse’s Ok Computer, than this is their very bad attempt at experimental Amnesiac and, boy, it has gone wrong. With so many different influences and genres, it is an LP in a mess without any coherence and full of songs that in years gone by would have been thrown onto the scrapheap.
“I chose to survive” screams Bellamy in ‘Survival’; maybe, Matt but with music like this, not for much longer.