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Source Material

Source Material: Muse, The 2nd Law

by Stephanie Benson

Source Material: Muse, The 2nd Law


Earlier we tracked Muse's most bombastic moments; here, we're going to get to the very core of their earth-shaking, panic-inducing pop-operatic rock. Since their beginnings in the late '90s, the Brit rockers have been no strangers to both apocalyptic musings and endless comparisons to bands like Radiohead, Queen and U2. Yet they don't seem to give one damn, and somehow the trio has gotten even more dystopic, flamboyant, bombastic, outrageous and absurd (we could go on) on their sixth release, The 2nd Law, a loosely thematic album inspired by the second law of thermodynamics, which the band so graciously explains for us in the penultimate track, "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable," a dubstepped Physics for Dummies of sorts:

All natural and technological processes proceed in such a way that the availability of the remaining energy decreases. In all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves an isolated system, the entropy of that system increases. Energy continuously flows from being concentrated, to becoming dispersed, spread out, wasted and useless. New energy cannot be created and high-grade energy is being destroyed. An economy based on endless growth is [cue robot voice] UN-SUS-TAIN-ABLE."

It's hard not to giggle at the thought that they need to relay this message with so much, um, energy themselves, but let's not focus on the science here. This is pure entertainment: George Orwell set to the biggest musical spectacular this (dark) side of the moon. Muse have taken their British rock studies scarily seriously, and what they do so well is traverse that great musical pantheon -- from Zeppelin (those strings in "Supremacy" sound very "Kashmir") to Radiohead ("Animals" cribs from "Paranoid Android") to Floyd (the paranoia of The Wall) to The Who (the operatic complexity of Quadrophenia) to Bowie to U2 to Queen -- both reverently and rebelliously. And when frontman Matthew Bellamy isn't reaching for Bono's soaring, vowel-stretched howls (see: "Follow Me" or "Big Freeze"), he's conjuring the ghost of Freddie Mercury with a falsetto so astringent it probably has the power to strip the skin off anyone who crosses it (be careful if you're in the front row of a Muse show!).

But beyond those usual classic rock comparisons, the band's inspirations also come from across the pond, with nods to both classic American pop ("Panic Station" sounds like "Another One Bites the Dust" before it gets all "Thriller" funky) and the au courant American bastardization of dubstep (we're looking at you, Skrillex) via NIN's Year Zero and the rockier aspects of Linkin Park (see "Liquid State").

But perhaps what is most evident on The 2nd Law is how much Muse are clearly dying to score a film, preferably a dark, scary one about doomsday and whatnot. Bellamy has stated how much Hans Zimmer has been an influence (just check out any of the composer's extraordinary work on The Dark Knight franchise), and the band's certainly got the orchestral chops to do it (see ominous instrumental closer "The 2nd Law: Isolated System"). So … who's ready for Nineteen Eighty-Four Redux?

In the meantime, here are the albums we're guessing had the biggest influence on The 2nd Law. Enjoy.