Welcome back to aMUSEings, where we take a look at each of Muse's nine albums. Previously, Muse have stuck to their cycle. Release an album, tour said album, and then immediately begin working on the next album. This work has even begun while still on tour, like Origin of Symmetry and Black Holes and Revelations. After completing their tour for The Resistance, Muse decided to take a break. During this break, the band decided that their next album would be entirely different from previous works. As Matt put things on Twitter, "a christian gangsta rap jazz odyssey, with some ambient rebellious dubstep and face melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia," which might be the funniest thing I have ever read. As for the album itself, many fans had a similar reaction to The Resistance. Since this album was different, it therefore wasn't as good as the band's earlier works. Personally, I love this album. Something about it just works. There are a few songs here and there that might not click perfectly, but the rest of the tracks help make up for it. This whole album is kind of one big science lesson, as the title is based on the Laws of Thermodynamics. From September 28th, 2012, it's The Second Law.
Once the band returned to the studio in London to begin recording, they were able to finish up a couple of new songs rather quickly. One of these would be used for the 2012 Olympic Games, as Muse performed Survival live for the event. This brought the band a newly found world stage, and is a truly incredible performance. Afterwards, the band continued working on their sixth album. For The Second Law, Muse would once again add to their entourage of instruments. With appearances from a choir, orchestra, brass band, and even a Kitara, the band had certainly expanded their reach into new territory. Drawing influence from Skrillex and their heavy metal electronic sound, Muse found the direction for the album. Bellamy also wanted a lullaby included. With the greater orchestral sound, Muse also took from legendary film composer Hans Zimmer. In my opinion, the orchestra included on this album is the one of the best choices Muse have made. Just like in The Resistance, it builds on Muse's already big sound. Adding string instruments gives things an edgier, more intense feel that works perfectly for an album like this. With that, we now dive into Muse's sixth studio album from beginning to end.
Supremacy: Just like before, Muse opens with an absolutely phenomenal track. If you were to take every single Muse opening track and combine them into one album, you might have the best Muse album to date. Supremacy is grand, epic, and heavy. The main guitar has incredible energy behind it, along with the matching drums. Once the strings enter, the intensity builds even further. Dom's drum fills into the first verse fit perfectly, and hearken back to the marching beat from the end of Hoodoo. Matt's vocals then begin for the first time on the album. While not in falsetto, his vocals still maintain the same energy he had when Muse began making music. The lyrics themselves continue the political themes from the previous album. "Wake to see, your true emancipation is a fantasy. Policies have risen up and overcome the brave. Greatness dies, unsung and lost, invisible to history. Embedded spies, brainwashing our children to be mean." This direction Muse has taken with their message has resulted in some of their best music, including Supremacy. I mentioned earlier how Bellamy has still retained the energy in his vocals. For the chorus, he brings back the falsetto. Matthew Bellamy has an incredible vocal range, and his falsetto in Supremacy is one of the best appearances yet. After belting out, "Your Supremacy!" in falsetto, the second verse features guitar and trumpet covering the lyrics. The two vastly different instruments work perfectly in tandem with each other. The epic guitar solo that follows the final chorus is also neat, featuring strings backing Bellamy on the guitar. A great introduction for The Second Law.
Madness: While the falsetto is Matt's signature, Madness allows him to flex his lower range a bit. The song opens with electronic bass work, almost warping between notes. Bellamy's vocals follow the beat over the word, "Madness." This song follows Muse's pattern of taking a song about love and romance and bringing their signature style of rock to it. Madness is a fairly simple track, but awesome nonetheless. The warping guitar and bass combined with Dom's sophisticated drumming give Madness a unique standing among the likes of other Muse love songs such as Supermassive Black Hole. Matt's vocals also sound slightly more strained, highlighting the pain that comes with romance. The solo is also one of my personal favorites from the band. Madness' guitar solo follows the lyric line, but is higher pitched and adds the crazy guitar work that has become Muse's signature by this point. Overall, Madness is a solid Muse love song that works in tandem with the previous track to establish a tone for The Second Law. Muse's sound still retains their style, but has definitely changed for the more modern sound of the early 2010's.
Panic Station: Whenever Muse decides to go funky with their music, the result is generally pretty epic. Whether it's the heavy funk of Darkshines or the sexy and swinging Supermassive Black Hole, Muse and funk is a good combo. They certainly didn't drop the ball with Panic Station. The drum beat is perfect to strut along with, and the rhythm guitar/bass make it impossible not to bob your head along. Panic Station has one hell of a groove to it. While not quite falsetto range, Matt's vocals are definitely in a higher register for this one. The chorus is especially fun, as the higher vocals and grooving bass lead into a great bridge transition on guitar. Adding to the funk are the lyrics, as Matt throws in the occasional scream or extra accouterments. Doubts will try to break you, unleash your heart and soul (soul). Trouble will surround you, start taking some control-(trol!) Stand up and deliver your wildest fantasy-(sy-sy).
Do what the fuck you want to, there's no one to appease." Panic Station is just such a fun track to listen to, especially when walking with headphones.
Prelude: The short piano and orchestral transition that only lasts about a minute. Not much to talk about here, but the orchestra gives a mysterious vibe and beautifully sets up the next song.
Survival: Just like Panic Station, Survival has a definite beat to it. Between the fast paced choir and off beat snaps, the intro flies by. The lower piano part also contributes to this beat. Tonally and thematically, this song is similar to We Are the Champions by Queen. This is best seen in the lyrics. "Race, life's a race. And I am gonna win, yes, I am gonna win. And I'll light the fuse, and I'll never lose. And I choose to survive, whatever it takes. You won't pull ahead, I'll keep up the pace. And I'll reveal my strength to the whole human race. Yes, I am prepared, to stay alive. I won't forgive, the vengeance is mine. And I won't give in, because I choose to thrive. Yeah, I'm gonna win!" You can definitely see why this song was chosen for the 2012 London Olympics. Behind these lyrics are an all men's choir repeating "Sur-vive," which adds to the growing energy of Survival. Adding to the epicness is the guitar, featuring Bellamy just going ham on his Manson. Dom's drumming is also a highlight, featuring a ton of fills and fast paced inserts to keep the tempo up. Combined with Wolstenhome's bass, Survival is a perfect blend of the new sound Muse desired along with maintaining their core elements.
Follow Me: Here's where The Second Law loses a lot of people. The opening twenty minutes are phenomenal, and many people see the rest of the album as electronic nonsense that isn't really Muse. While I agree with the notion that the middle section of this album isn't as strong as the beginning or end, I still believe it should be looked at. Muse decided to change their core sound for this album, which is a good thing. If every single Muse album sounded exactly like Origin of Symmetry or Absolution, then what would be the point of making new music? While it would be great music, everything would be exactly the same as what came before. The experimentation, while perhaps not executed perfectly, should still at least be recognized by the fans. A good example of this comes in Follow Me. While the song is pretty generic, just a call of protection and love, the instrumentation makes the song pretty unique. The effect, which starts about forty five seconds into the song, is a warbling, electronic sound that is a first for Muse. And again, the message of this song is promising.
Animals: Yet another example of Muse trying something new. With the slide guitar and keyboard added in, the sound for Animals is very unique. This song, similarly to Uprising from before, is a reminder of how things really are. Instead of a call to action, this song shows true human nature. We destroy each other and everything around us for personal gain, especially the powerful in society. This can be heard throughout both the lyrics, "Animals, we're animals. Buy when blood is on the street. Out of control, we're out of control. Crush those who beg at your feet," as well as the outro. During the final guitar part, the screaming of a mob can be heard. When it comes down to it, people are just animals fighting for Survival. Muse does a great job of showing that through music.
Explorers: This song continues the themes established in Animals, only with a much different tone. It still highlights the greed of humanity, but this time a plea for Mercy. The piano and vibraphone introduction allow for the softer tone, along with Bellamy's vocals. This song takes a lot of elements from previous Muse songs and combines them into one. The vocals are similar to those of Blackout, the building atmosphere by adding more instruments like in Take a Bow, and of course the continued themes mentioned earlier. The message of Explorers is heartfelt and poignant, now more than ever, but the main negative is the length. This song is almost six minutes long, but doesn't quite feel as justified as other long Muse songs like Citizen Erased or Butterflies and Hurricanes. I think the main problem is that Explorers is kind of the same thing for the entire song, while other longer Muse songs have different sections that work with each other to extend the length. That being said, the song is still worth a listen for Matt's vocals, as they are quite beautiful.
Big Freeze: Perhaps one of the lesser known or remembered Muse songs, Big Freeze actually shares quite a few similarities to a familiar favorite. The opening guitar riff, drums, and even vocals during the chorus are quite similar to those of Map of the Problematique. Not a bad thing, especially given how good Map of the Problematique is. This song, like Panic Station, is funky. Not in the same way, but elements of funk, jazz, and blues can definitely be heard throughout. And while I've mentioned this a lot for The Second Law, the guitar solos are quite spectacular on this album. The solo for Big Freeze almost sounds like an elephant, before gliding down into the lower register. Muse's signature ladies and gentlemen: f*cking around on the guitar.
Save Me: Muse is a band that consists of three members, with Matt Bellamy on vocals and guitar, Chris Wolstenholme on bass, and Dom Howard on drums. This time around, Wolstenholme gets the chance to shine his vocals. He sings the entire song, start to ending, as the main vocalist. And man, does he nail it. Both Save Me and Liquid State are sung by Chris, with both songs being about his fight against alcoholism. This song is about having someone to help you out of the darkness, using their love as support. The guitar and drums are pretty simple, no crazy effects or insane fills, as Chris' singing is the highlight. The difference between him and Bellamy is like night and day, with Matt usually going for crazy high pitched falsetto while Wolstenholme's vocals are more grounded. Both are perfect for this band, and Chris' work especially well for this song.
Liquid State: This is the other half of the Christopher Wolstenholme duo, being written entirely by the bassist. Muse return to their roots with this one, as Liquid State is one of the heavier songs on the album. With the continued themes of alcoholism, this song delves into the monster of a person that alcohol creates. The main guitar riff is punchy, heavy, and truly epic. Combined with the quick drums of Howard, the atmosphere of Liquid State is one of a kind. It's different from other "heavy" Muse songs, but that is a recurring theme of this album. Taking what makes the band great, changing things up, and seeing where it goes. I particularly enjoy the lyrics. "Kick me when I’m down. Feed me poison, fill me till I drown. Wake me up before I get pushed out and fall into the night." They're dark, sorrowful, and kind of a downer. It highlights the brutality of alcohol and what it can do to a person. Truly a great Muse song.
The 2nd Law: Unsustainable: The number one complaint about this song is dubstep. "Muse just used computers to make weird sound effects for their music and blah, blah, blah." Upon first listen, that is a fair assumption. But what if I were to say that Muse didn't use any computers or dubstep to make this song? Might blow your mind. Other than the orchestral introduction, the rest of Unsustainable sounds like a technological mess. Wrong. The sounds heard were made only with guitars, distortion pedals, and other live effects. Don't believe me? Check out the song live here. For the chorus and verses, it's just Matt going crazy on his guitar, using different pedals and techniques to achieve this kind of sound. To quote Matt himself, "just gonna go mental on the Whammy pedal." Between the Whammy Guitar and Kaoss Pad, Muse once again revolutionized rock music. They created dubstep without using the main component of dubstep: computers. Even the robot chanting, "You're unsustainable," was made using Wolstenholme's bass. The themes of humanity's greed applied to the Second Law of Thermodynamics combined with the crazy sound effects from the trio make for a truly awesome listening experience.
The 2nd Law: Isolated System: I'll start this one with some science schtuff. In physics, an isolated system is one in which matter and energy cannot be exchanged or displaced to the surroundings. Simply, it is a closed circuit. Entropy, putting it simply, is the measurement of randomness inside a system, usually measured as thermal energy. With those terms defined, we now arrive at the closing song of The Second Law. To describe it simply, Isolated System might be the most haunting Muse song to date. Along with Map of the Problematique, it is also beautifully scary. The piano throughout the entire track is simple, but effective in generating paranoia. The simplicity of the riff combined with the later introduction of string instruments gives Isolated System an amazing energy and atmosphere. Muse also added several clips of news reportings over the track, grounding the song in reality and driving home the point to the listener. Normally, I don't mention the music videos of Muse so I can just focus on the music. This time, however, I think the video for Isolated System deserves taking a look at. The video depicts some sort of electronic energy, spreading across the Earth. Everything that is consumed by it then gets broken down into basic shapes before completely dissolving into static. The meaning is left up to interpretation, but I personally see it as the Earth resetting itself. As a small group attempts to flee, all but one of them fall to the static. The lone survivor eventually decides to sprint into the static, giving one last defiant action before embracing the inevitable. This song also fits shockingly well with the recent events of COVID and the pandemic. Listening to Isolated System while biking through quiet neighborhoods during the pandemic, filled with empty cars and otherwise silence, was one of the most haunting moments of my life. Truly surreal, all thanks to the musical genius of Muse.
During the show on April 4th, 2023 at Ball Arena, Muse performed three songs from The Second Law live. The first was Isolated System. Hearing the haunting piano riff echo throughout a stadium while thousands of people clapped along to the beat was unforgettable. The sound was just incredible. For the news segments, Muse added different clips for the live performance. These included the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty, recent protests over police brutality, and NATO. Afterwards, Dom's drums became the highlight. At center stage, he donned the WOTP mask while playing two different drums, each at a different beat. Unrivaled skill on the drums. In total, Isolated System was shortened a bit, as it was used as a sort of intro for Undisclosed Desires. Just outstanding work from Muse on stage. The second song was Madness. During the intro, Matt and Chris traded the warping vocals back and forth for a bit of variety. As the entire crowd began singing along, Matt cut out for the first, "Madness." Everyone in the audience joined in unison for each rendition of the title, and it was spectacular to participate in. During the guitar solo, Matt went especially crazy. Throwing in a bit more of the Kaoss Pad, he really went for it. With Chris on the backup vocals and Dom bringing the beat with drums, Madness was easily a highlight of the show. The final song from The Second Law was Prelude, and it was used as a transition into Starlight. While it wasn't followed with the original song from the album, Prelude worked perfectly in transitioning from Uprising to Starlight.
The Second Law has often been panned by Muse fans, primarily because of the middle section of the album. And again, while I agree, the beginning and ending of the album are some of Muse's best works. With the grand epic Supremacy to open the album combined with crazy guitar effects in Unsustainable and the haunting beauty of Isolated System, I'll give The Second Law a 6/10.
Next time we'll look at Drones, a controversial yet grand return to form for Muse.
“The 2nd Law (Album).” MuseWiki, 2022. https://www.musewiki.org/The_2nd_Law_(album).
Lyrics Written by Matthew James Bellamy
Austin Eide is currently a junior at Poudre High School. This will be his first year writing for the Poudre Press. He enjoys playing trumpet in the Pep Band and is also Captain of the Build Team for 159 Alpine Robotics. Austin also loves building with LEGO and making stop-motion movies on YouTube. His blog is dedicated to music, hockey, band, and more!