Bursting through your speakers with a pulsating sonic boom, Muse’s sixth outing, The 2nd Law, emerges back into the fray with a demanding and overly ambitious album filled with a sound that both frustrates and satisfies. Dedicated to the second law of thermodynamics (entropy), Muse weaves in and out with plenty of prog-rock rhythms and synth-breaks that may overwhelm the untrained listener. Of course, Muse fans will be right at home here as The 2nd Law continues to deliver the stadium-filling sound they’ve come to be known for, albeit with more of a pseudo-electronic vibe than their previous efforts.

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then it should be noted here and now that Muse are undoubtedly Queen and Radiohead’s biggest fans. The endless comparisons are unavoidable, so much so that Muse doesn’t seem to mind jacking these band’s signature sounds. Most of the songs carry an incessant space opera filled bravado and melancholic moodiness that only solidifies the notion that Muse went to the studio with one rule in mind, “anything goes.” While such ambition is to be heralded on the creative front, the album also suffers from the lack of some sort of self-restraint. At its best, they should be applauded for the courage to meddle with different techniques (dubstep anyone?); at its worst, the lack of filter leaves the album sounding like a collection of misplaced sci-fi film soundtracks.

Some of the highlights start early on with “Supremacy” and “Madness,” each setting the mood with apocalyptic melodies that seem to emerge directly from a dystopian near future. “Madness” shines especially bright here, with lead vocalist Matthew Bellamy delivering a smooth and somber tempo throughout. Soon after the 80s-inspired, yet forgettable “Panic Station,” we’re brought into the Kubrick-esque “Prelude” which serves as an appetizer for “Survival,” the song chosen as the theme for the 2012 London Olympics this past summer. Such a song should inspire and be uplifting, yet “Survival” comes off as merely desperate and whiny with lyrics like, “Life’s a race, and I’m gonna win. Yes, I’m gonna win.” The guitar and orchestra are misused and all over the place, a prime example of throwing it all in there instead of choosing a specific path. If you can get past Bellamy’s screeching falsettos, “Follow Me” has some interesting build-ups (it was apparently written for Bellamy’s infant son) and “Animals” is a pleasant track that conveys the message that all humans are, you guessed it, animals. “Explorers” is a gentle and lustrous song that works quite well besides what may creepily sound like a direct homage to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. The 80s are back with “Big Freeze,” and we soon find ourselves with two tracks, “Save Me” and “Liquid State,” written and sung by bassist and backup vocalist Christopher Wolstenholme. “Liquid State” contains some decisively metal riffs and, while both songs are a welcome break from Bellamy’s howling, they don’t really stand apart from the earlier tracks.

To end their album, Muse seems to have come full circle with the standalone tracks “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” and “The 2nd Law: Isolated System.” These mostly instrumental final tracks swing back to the apocalyptic symphonies with full orchestras, beaming strings and even an eerie end-of-the-world voice over amidst state-of-emergency news background noise. They deliver quite well and give you a perfect soundtrack should the world end anytime soon. In the end, Muse’s The 2nd Law resonates loudly enough in the musical zeitgeist, but their few triumphs are upstaged by the pretentious chaos that floods their attempt at an original sound.

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