“Supremacy,” the opening track off Muse ’s sixth studio effort, “The 2nd Law,” kicks off with a series of bombastic four-chord punches that hearken back to the agreeable dissonance of its earlier recordings.
But just when you think the band has recommitted itself to the space rock ecstasy of its “Origin of Symmetry” heyday, it dives headfirst into a dramatic plethora of blaring horns, sweeping violins and battle-ready snare drum rolls — the products of a musical entity anxious to evolve.
Muse is the kind of group that is always keen on experimentation, and given the Devon-based trio’s infamous taste for the theatrical, that probably comes with the territory. These newest endeavors turn out to be especially far-reaching, with the band further whetting its symphonic appetite in addition to dabbling in an array of EDM subgenres –– yes, that includes dubstep –– and even trying its hand at a bona fide funk song.
That song, “Panic Station,” might require a few listens for longtime fans to get used to, but it’s carried to great heights by Chris Wolstenholme’s slap-happy bass line and frontman Matthew Bellamy ’s ostensibly channeling the spirit of James Brown with enough overdubs to make Freddie Mercury blush.
Unsurprisingly, Bellamy never fails to flex the full extent of his operatic vocal muscles, from the lullaby-caliber softness on “Explorers” to the mirror-shattering falsetto on “Survival.”
But it’s “Big Freeze,” a possible follow-up to 2006’s “Starlight,” that conveys the most emotion as Bellamy preaches the end of the world over jangly guitars reminiscent of U2’s The Edge .
With the nightclub dance rhythms of “Madness” and “Follow Me” thrown into the mix, it wouldn’t be totally implausible to call this Muse’s most diverse collection of music yet. Still, there are instances when awkward transitions between genres work against its favor, particularly by the time the rather anti-climactic two-part closer is reached.
The album also marks the first time Wolstenholme assumes –– albeit briefly –– the mantle of lead singer. While he doesn’t exactly possess Bellamy’s range, his dream-like coos on the reverb-heavy “Save Me” and subdued thrash metal-esque “Liquid State” prove that he’s certainly capable of holding a song on his own, even if the instrumentation does drown out his voice a bit.
“The 2nd Law” does little more than subvert any lasting preconceptions about the trio’s sound, but the level of variety shows that they haven’t begun to lose their step. It’s a change, sure, but a change fans should have seen coming.
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