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Music Review: ‘The 2nd Law’ a trial for Muse fans

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The alternative rock band Muse has experienced increased popularity among American audiences after appearing in the interactive video game “Rockband” and on the “Twilight” soundtrack. Muse’s recent sixth album, “The 2nd Law,” demonstrates how the group’s progressively experimental sound has been largely influenced by mainstream music by incorporating dubstep and other driving electronic sounds. Long-term Muse fans may be skeptical, but new fans are likely to be enticed by the new album’s versatile sound.

Muse’s Matt Bellamy is revered for his ethereal vocals and range. “The 2nd Law” shows glimpses of his evocative soprano choruses, which are characteristic of past albums like “Absolution” and “Black Holes and Revelations.”

In the opening track, “Supremacy,” Bellamy squeals out an intensely high chorus, but it resembles more of an ’80s glam-rocker whine. The introductory guitar and synth mirror qualities of dark symphonic rock, enforced with a hushed drum-roll pattern on the snare drum and staccato trumpet fanfare. Bellamy’s vocals shine during verses and are only accompanied by haunting strings in a minor key. The recurring guitar solo is subpar, and drives “Supremacy” to become a generic, lackluster rock song. A crescendo meets bland guitar chords as Bellamy’s wails replace lyrics or a structured chorus.

The opening track foreshadows “The 2nd Law” and sums up the skepticism long-term Muse fans may endure for the album’s duration. The second song, “Madness,” was released as the album’s first single and frequently airs on 96.5 The Buzz.

“Madness” is appropriately titled and continues the strange, genre-bending trend of “Supremacy.” A subtle, dubstep-esque, electronic sound purrs in the background and loops throughout the track, layered with Bellamy’s vocals. It detracts from Muse’s typical instrumental creativity and mushes the vocals, uninteresting guitar solo and questionable harmonies together into a mediocre blur.

“Panic Station” further enforces an odd ’80s rock attitude, exhibited best through Bellamy’s shouts. The first three songs lack musically interesting guitar solos, which prove overly distorted or generic.

“Prelude,” under a minute long, best demonstrates Muse’s talent with sweet, gentle piano sweeps and violins melding together. It leads into “Survival,” which features a driving tempo from quarter-note piano chords. The song’s male bass harmonies and overtly soprano female harmonies sink “Survival” back into a retro ’80s rock groove.

“Follow Me” sounds like a ballad for the first minute, but picks up tempo with electronic beats, which crescendo into a full-blown electronic backbeat and replace Muse’s aptitude to feature instrumental talent.

“Animals” finally shows Muse’s instrumental talent, featuring blues chords in a recurring guitar solo which appropriately accompany Bellamy’s tamer and more emotionally evocative vocals.

“The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” introduces pleasant string harmonies and a vocal choir, but transitions into a chaotic, electronic mess halfway through. The synth noise calms down and eventually becomes integrated into the harmonious choir.

“The 2nd Law: Isolated System” repeats the same musical framework as the previous track, but includes more piano. The song’s elements blend flawlessly enough to give the listener goosebumps, a response the majority of the album fails to achieve.

Muse is notorious for pushing musical boundaries and defying listeners’ expectations, but “The 2nd Law” is apt to prove only mediocre for diehard fans. Muse pays homage to ’80s rock while incorporating popular electronic sounds, which can prove disastrous or strangely refreshing, depending on the listener’s expectations.

mhartigan@unews.com

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