Saturday, October 20, 2012

Collectibles #36: MUSE - The 2nd Law Deluxe Box Set (2012)

The contents of the Deluxe Box Set

The back of the box showing the tracklisting

The box lid is printed with thermal reactive liquid crystal ink, causing it to change colour according to surrounding temperature

I place my warm palm on it...

...and it changes colour to blue!

CD & DVD housed in a 7" hardcover book containing lyrics and pictures

2 heavyweight vinyl albums

3 exclusive 12" art prints

The 2nd Law is the sixth studio album by Muse. With the release of each album, they have solidified their status as one of the most forward looking and consistently brilliant rock bands around. The title of "biggest rock band in the world today" is overused and perhaps impossible to quantify, with the term being liberally applied on U2, Bon Jovi, Foo Fighters, Green Day and Coldplay among others, but Muse have a genuine case of laying claim to the title.

Their album sales may not match Coldplay's or U2's, but they are no slouch themselves. They have sold 15 million copies of their six albums. The 2nd Law became their fourth #1 album in the UK and the fourth fastest-selling album in the UK this year. They are showing signs of breaking into the USA too, with The 2nd Law debuting at #2 on the Billboard 200, becoming the highest charting debut of their career.

They are a hit with critics as well. Their previous album The Resistance won them the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album. 2006's Black Holes And Revelations was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize for album of the year. And they are without a doubt, one of the best live bands in the world today, having won the "Best Live Act/Band" awards multiple times - Brit Awards (twice), NME Award (thrice) and Q Awards (thrice).

While those superlatives are all very good and well, at the end of the day, it's all about the music. And I must say the music is damn good. The 2nd Law doesn't surpass Black Holes And Revelations (nothing ever will, and I don't think Muse can ever top that, it's truly their crowning glory), but it showcases a band constantly pushing the musical boundaries while expanding their signature sound.

Much has been said about this being the album where Muse go dubstep, but the "dubstep" sound appears on only two tracks - Unsustainable and Follow Me. Even then, it is hard to tell if Unsustainable is truly a piece of dubstep music. You can never put it past Matt Bellamy to create those dubstep sounds on his guitar, being the virtuoso he is. Personally, I feel that Follow Me could have worked better if it didn't employ the dubstep sound.

The album opens with crunching guitar chords to Supremacy, a grand and massive curtain raiser. Matt Bellamy wails and reaches a crescendo at the chorus, when he sings "supremaccccy". At this point, his voice becomes more than just a voice, it turns into an instrument, like a wailing guitar hitting those high notes.

The mellow lead single Madness follows, representing an abrupt change from the hi-jinks of the opener. On this song, Chris Wolstenholme is the star. Hi double-necked bass/kitara provides the song's wah wah foundation, melding bass with electronica. Matt cleverly opts for an understated guitar solo instead of going over the top, allowing the song to build up nicely and leading to a satisfying climax. Madness is an experiment that worked splendidly, and it is now one of their best songs ever.

The album's best song is its third track, Panic Station. It is undeniably catchy and hits all the right notes. The bassline sounds a little like Queen's Another One Bites The Dust, but it is probably intentional and a middle finger salute to those who have been saying for years that Muse sound like Queen. Nevertheless, it is a great pop song and Matt Bellamy does a fantastic job with his syncopated "special effects" sounds during the verses. The horns add a nice touch to the chorus too. Panic Station is going to be a big hit.

Track four is the Prelude to track five's Survival, and should be considered as two parts of the same song. Survival was chosen as the official theme song of this year's London 2012 Olympic Games, some might say an odd choice. In interviews, Muse have said that Survival was not written specially for the Olympics, but for the album, and they submitted the track for the International Olympics Committee's consideration and they accepted it. It works well with the rest of the album and perhaps one can appreciate it better here than as a standalone track. This is Muse at their most ambitious and it doesn't get any more epic than this, with a powerful choir and full scale orchestra lending support and bringing the song to a furious climax.

My other favourite tracks are Animals and Big Freeze. Animals is set in 5/4 time signature and that instantly makes the arrangement interesting. Matt Bellamy's subtle guitar weaves in and out effortlessly, while Dominic Howard provides a steady hand to the proceedings. The riot ending is a little odd and unnecessary though. Big Freeze is their U2 moment on this album. It is unabashedly upbeat and optimistic, like the best of U2's anthems. Heck, it even references U2's "electrical storm". Another potential radio smash and massive crossover hit.

The 2nd Law is also notable for being the first Muse album to feature bassist Chris Wolstenholme on vocals on not one, but two songs - Save Me and Liquid State. After six albums, he has earned the right, but the songs don't sound like Muse and takes a little getting used to.

On a whole, The 2nd Law is a very good album. I applaud their effort to keep reinventing and keeping their sound fresh, while retaining their signature sound. They are perhaps the most accomplished musicians among all the "biggest rock bands in the world today", and they are as good live as they are on the albums. I can't wait to watch them in concert again and hear them perform all the new songs.


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