It sounded disastrous that the album housing ‘Survival’ was to be based around the second law of thermodynamics (in brief: a way of explaining why any system based upon limited resources and endless growth – for example, the world we live in – is careering to a catastrophic end). The reassuring news is that ‘Survival’ sounds marginally better on an album than in the context of the Olympics. But not much. If anything, it serves as a reminder about how 2012 got us all a bit overexcited. Chris Martin from Coldplay sure did when he described the follow-up, ‘Madness’, as the best song Muse have ever done. He’s wrong, despite it being an enjoyably sexual electro slow-jam that moves Muse along as a band, while re-establishing an element of mystique. But in keeping with the word ‘Survival’, The 2nd Law gets better.
‘Supremacy’ opens things with a bombast that just about stops short of making you roll your eyes about ‘more bloody cataclysmic Muse’ because it does the cataclysmic Muse thing in a new way. “Wait to see your true emancipation is a fantasy”, goes Matt Bellamy. “Save our crops from drought”. There are plenty of lines like that, as they preempt the end of the world. ‘Panic Station’ is outrageous, taut funk – even tauter than ‘Supermassive Black Hole’, with the slappy bass and saxophones of some of your camper ’80s discos. ‘Follow Me’ is ‘Map Of The Problematique’ reimagined as a love song with dubstep wobbles. The fiddly ambience of ‘Animals’ recalls U2’s ‘Love Is Blindness’ by way of a Shins track.
Then the sounds of euphoric? Angry? (It’s hard to tell) crowds usher in the second half of the record, and the second law stuff really kicks in. It’s now that things get really interesting. ‘Explorers’ channels Queen once again in the shape of the melody from ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, and contains a warning about “the planet being overrun”. Things continue in this direction with the self-explanatory ‘Big Freeze’, which comes across like an angular indie band from 2004 (although, yes, via Queen again). Chris Wolstenholme’s confessional recovering-alcoholic segment – including the trippy ‘Save Me’ and the misguided alt-rock of ‘Liquid State’, both of which he sings – is less successful in the cold light of day than it probably sounded when the idea was hatched. And in the final act, the album doesn’t need the one true dubstep moment that comes on ‘Unsustainable’. By this point, though, you’ve forgiven Muse, because even though The 2nd Law doesn’t scale the 10/10 superhuman heights of Black Holes & Revelations, it’s their most human record since 2003’s Absolution. What Muse have done is re-establish themselves as a respected British institution by being fun. — NME