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The 2nd Law

First of all, this review is coming from a person who quit the biggest radio station there is in Austin, TX because they wouldn’t play Muse, in 1999. That was the era of Muscle Museum. The general manager there said Muse was obviously one of the best bands ever, but it was too progressive and no one would understand them. I told him I obviously understand them, as do others, and how will anyone ever get a chance to expand if not exposed to such things as have the potential to do it? What? Are we ONLY catering to the bottom of the barrel now, or what? And we wonder why so much of society is slipping its tethers and moors, or never had any to begin with? In addition he told me then that while he feared losing the likes of me if he was honest with me, the music industry was about money, not music, and Muse wasn’t a good risk from a mass appreciation level. Obviously one of us in that room knows how to pick a winner and the other of us doesn’t. I wasn’t gonna stay stuck there acting on the dictates of people with bad pickers, and frankly the dude did do what he feared and burst my bubble with what he said that day. I was naive. It explained a LOT. Flash forward some years later and I was returning to Austin. I turn the same station on I’d worked for there and guess what was playing? Uprising, by Muse. As for this album all I can say is this. It’s MUSE. There is no such thing as even a stinker of a song in their catalog, and it’s the sort of music you can listen to over the years and always be able to get more out of where the context and energy in it. It’s the sort of thing that makes you wonder how much even the musicians of Muse themselves actually understand when they are channeling and birthing it. I was telling my son last night that no matter what your craft any true artist and genius has the rage to master and will constantly be honing it. I thought of one exception, though. I thought of Muse. It’s hard to imagine anyone so talented and tight and perfect already getting any better. Their main room for improvement is to start singing from a visionary perspective of creators and what’s possible, instead of singing about how things ARE. Hopefully if/when they get that then Muse will be taking it to an even HIGHER level and that could create some miraculous impact. Check it out!

Muse didn’t set out to make the most gloriously ambitious album of their career. How could they have? The band who dreamt up "Supermassive Black Hole," Knights Of Cydonia and the three-part "Exogenesis" symphony were already well-versed in going One Louder. Any wilder, any further out there, and Muse would risk incineration by a dwarf star of their own making. But you don’t become one of the biggest bands on this planet by sitting on your hands. So when Muse approached the making of their sixth studio album, they wouldn’t stint on the choirs, strings and horn sections. And be reassured: guitar-shredding, piano-thumping, orchestra-arranging, book-chewing, big-thinking Matt Bellamy, as the band’s chief songwriter, didn’t lower his sights from The Big Picture nor ignore The Precious Details. And nor were the trio afraid of giving space to a brilliant new element to their sound – songs written and sung by bass player Chris Wolstenholme. But what the Devon-born band of schoolfriends did do different was this: they made things easy for themselves. For the first time since the dawn of their career in smalltown England 18 years ago, all three members were living in the same place during the making of an album. And this time, Muse had the experience born of self-producing The Resistance to apply their studio knowledge to creating the album they really wanted to make. It was about saving aggro, and conserving energy. And, appropriately, it was about The 2nd Law: an album titled after and thematically influenced by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which concerns the inevitable wasting of energy within a closed system. It was about letting themselves go and enjoying themselves. Muse, after all, had earned it.

The 2nd Law Review

I’ve said in other reviews that I kind of don’t like reviewing music, since a) tastes are very personal, and b) I don’t even have the right vocabulary (I’m so much NOT a musical person). On top of that I’m 40-something so my habits just don’t mesh with the new short-attention-span track-at-a-time billion MP3 generation mentality. ..I still like to listen to *albums* all the way through. My first exposure to Muse was their Resistance album, which I’ve reviewed as good but sort of workmanlike with nice range of styles and tempos and classical influence, most specifically Queen. That lead me to some discussions with another Amazon reviewer and a purchase of Absolution (which I didn’t like as much – the production seemed muddy and the vocals overly electronically processed), Black Holes and Revelations (which I liked a lot – I’m a sucker for SF themed rock), and this album. Where to start? The first song, to my ears, has all the makings of a James Bond movie opening credits song. It’s got all the hallmarks – the dramatic string flourishes, overwrought cheezy lyrics building to a full throat howl, pensive sections with a pseudo-military march sort of beat, slow build to a raging crescendo after which it fades, with a final steel guitar note, so that I can almost SEE that last credit graphic (usually a gun barrel view of some sort) expand back from the opening sequence into the movie itself. I’m not kidding – watch a Bond movie, any one of them from the last couple of actors – and then listen to this song, and imagine it over that opener. It works. The most-played song on the air, Madness, follows up with its hypnotic vocals and mesmerizing tone, and its own slow build. Panic Station is an over-the-top homage to Styx or other orchestral rock tracks to my ears, followed by Survival which is laugh-out-loud funny satire of a Gordon Gecko-like alpha male, dog-eat-dog kind of mentality set to music. The middle of the album gets a bit mushy, but only because those first few tracks are so outstanding – if not in immediate proximity they’re quite fine listens. Follow Me seems just a dad underpaced to me with drawn out vocals, as does Animals (although the latter track has some very nice musicality). Explorers seems kind of forgetabble overall, and Big Freeze is kind of a dribbler of a double that I think was swinging for the fences. But then the end of the album brings it all back. Save Me starts out slow but grows on you, and Liquid State builds up to a powerful ending. And then we have the title track(s): Unsustainable and Isolated Systems. WOW. The first one starts sounding like it should be backing music for the newest Batman trilogy – all rapid strings and dominating, brooding synth notes. Then it overlays a technical voiceover that wouldn’t be out of place backing some montage of Wayne working on his newest gadgetry. ..only to explode into a fully saturated electronically distorted barrage of sound which reminded me of Nine Inch Nails from the Downward Spiral phase, just far less angry. The second one starts out a little more pensive than brooding, and brought to mind the movie Children of Men with the sort of despairing "things are breaking down" news-coverage vocal overlays. This is the way the world ends – not with a bang, but a whimper. Muse really strikes me as a group that takes a lot of chances with vocal range and musical styles and classical, orchestral flourishes, and this album I think showcases them at their full potential. If there’s not a single track on this album you like, then you’re likely dead inside, or only listen to Gregorian Chants or something. What really makes me wonder though is this is called "Disk 1" by my music there a Disk 2 I’m missing??? If so. ..I WANT IT! -Read Reviews-

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