It’s been 13 years of trying, and British band Muse still can’t quite crack the upper reaches of Stateside fame. This, despite Olympic-caliber baby-daddying (frontman Matthew Bellamy and Kate Hudson had a child together last year) and actual Olympic product placement: Muse’s dystopian anthem “Survival” recently became the least uplifting Olympic theme song ever. Its lyrics (”And I’ll reveal my strength/To the whole human race/. . .I won’t forgive/The vengeance is mine”) better suggest “The Hunger Games,” if all the parts were played by robots.
“Survival” is included on the band’s new album “The 2nd Law,” and it fits right in. A dizzying mix of arena rock, dubstep, prog and a whole bunch of other things it mostly doesn’t need, “The 2nd Law” is a mess and a hoot. (The title refers to the second law of thermodynamics, but don’t worry if you’ve forgotten it; Muse has hired Creepy Generic Sci-Fi Lady to explain it to you, in detail, on “Unsustainable.”)
But mostly it’s a mess. Derivative opener “Supremacy,” the possible result of a vamp-off between Radiohead and the Darkness cover bands and a serious contender for worst song in the history of time, doesn’t even have the dignity of its own terribleness.
There’s nowhere to go but up and “The 2nd Law” is engineered to dazzle and thrill. It offers everything from earnest power balladry (”Explorers”) to dubstep (”Madness”) to reheated Red Hot Chili Peppers (“Panic Station”). Every song is the musical equivalent of a clown car, with five or six ideas, genres or competing forms of instrumentation spilling out.
Most have the ghost of Queen hovering over them. But Freddie Mercury was an accountant compared to Bellamy, who is worth his weight in falsettos and glitter.