by Jac Bergenson

Rating: ** ½

The 2nd Law is Muse’s most divisive album yet.

A band steeped in the tradition of changing their sound, Muse is no stranger to controversy.  Fans felt they “jumped the shark” when they lent their musical talents to the soundtrack of Twilight (2008).  The band had long sung against the establishment and “New World Order,” only to perform for the most sweeping pop-culture phenomenon among tweens.

Their following album, The Resistance (2009), was met with tepid reviews from fans, who feared that the band had veered too far from their alt-rock roots, and forayed too far into the realm of electronica.  Despite alienating a large part of their core fan base, Twilight fans and MTV would drive Muse to international super-stardom, and their most fundamentally different album became their most financially successful.

Looking to regain some of their luster, Muse peppers The 2nd Law with the classic sounds of Matt Bellamy’s guitar, Chris Wolstenholme’s bass, and Dom Howard’s drums.  “Supremacy,” the opening track, goes for broke.  It starts off with a bang and unfolds into something that would fit any James Bond theme song.

“Madness,” the second track and leading single, just works.  In an effort that could be considered more pop than alt-rock, Muse succeeds with “Madness” where they failed with “Undisclosed Desires” on The Resistance.  Stripped of everything grandiose that typically marks Muse’s arrival, the song is simple, catchy, and climaxes toward the end as Bellamy showcases his time-tested vocal chops.  The band has been compared to Queen before, and Bellamy certainly channels Freddie Mercury on this track.

In contrast, “Panic Station,” the album’s third track, feels ripped right out of the 1970s.  Funky and playful, Wolstenholme’s bass is the highlight, and Bellamy continues to do his best Mercury impersonation.  While it doesn’t exactly reflect Muse’s earlier style, it does have a classic, feel-good rock tone to it, and the song gets two thumbs way up.

And that is where it all goes downhill.  The fourth and fifth songs, which make up Muse’s 2012 Olympic Games anthem, “Survival,” just do not feel like Muse, and fail to capture the theme they were going for.  Rather than coming across as epic, the song feels like it was ripped out of a Disney movie.

From there, the songs range from mediocre to forgettable.  “Follow Me,” a collaboration with famed dubstep producer Nero, is a tribute to Bellamy’s newborn son, but comes across as a half-hearted club anthem.  Whatever the message, it got muddled and lost in translation.

Tunes such as “Animals,” and “Big Freeze,” return to the band’s simpler, rock roots, but neither song leaves an impression, and both will certainly be forgotten in the band’s discography.

The only other songs of note are “Save Me,” and “Liquid State,” which comprise a stark departure from the band’s modus operandi.  Wolstenholme takes over the lead vocals on these tracks to retell his decade-long struggle with alcoholism, marking the first time Bellamy has not been the lead vocalist on a Muse track.  The meaning is admirable, but Wolstenholme is not nearly as memorable a vocalist as his counterpart, and on a rock level, the songs fall flat.

With the marketing force comprised behind it, there is little doubt that The 2nd Law will be Muse’s best selling album yet.  It is a crying shame.  While flashes of Muse’s old self shine through on a few tracks, the rest range from “meh,” to bad. Muse embraces their iconic status with this album, but one more release of this quality may serve as the final nail in Muse’s coffin.