Double Review: “The 2nd Law” by Muse

Copyright © 2012 by Helium 3 and Warner Bros. Records.

Much like The Resistance, Muse’s latest album, The 2nd Law, is a blend of high-minded rock and brilliant symphonies.  ELO for a new generation.

It also features an unusual musical experiment at the end, with the title tracks “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” and “The 2nd Law: Isolated System.”  I want to focus on these songs because of their melody and their take on thermodynamics.

Part I: “Unsustainable”

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… unsustainable!

Right off the bat, with the rising vocals and strings, the opening of this song reminds me of the melody of Muse’s previous musical experiment, “Exogenesis: Symphony.”  Then it kicks into a digitally-filtered monologue (quoted above) about the second law of thermodynamics, the inspiration for the album’s title.

And then, accordingly, everything falls apart into dubstep, more strings, and a wild medley of Matthew Bellamy’s falsetto cries.  With more narration scattered throughout, the song carries an impression of being hurled into an abyss, a system breaking down.

This is, as it were, the science before the politics.  Theory before application.

Part II: “Isolated System”

In an isolated system, entropy can only increase…

Techno-beats and synthesizer notes start off the album’s final track, reminiscent of the soundtrack from Tron.  But added to that ominous background (with light piano) are various audio snippets from contemporary British news broadcasts.  Anxious voices drawing attention to social upheaval, riots, and economic collapse.

In other words, to the entropy of our current isolated system.  And as the Englishwoman’s voice continually repeats, the entropy will only increase.  Without external sustenance, everything will keep breaking down as we move forward, according to the thermodynamic arrow of time.

This track is much more melancholy and understated than the first song.  If you remove the techno beats, it’s almost like a montage of news broadcasts that a political documentary might use.  It also carries a stronger political note than the first song, a very subtle plea for sanity in the ever-widening gyre.  This is a nice reflection of our current economy-in-crisis and the rise of political instability, much more focused than the general global perspective taken in “Exogenesis: Symphony.”

Taken together, these two songs are fascinating, though they don’t have the same bombast and magic of “Exogenesis.”  But considering other tracks like “Supremacy,” “Madness,” and “Survival,” I don’t feel like they’re holding back the rest of the album.

The 2nd Law is available for download on iTunes.

Bibliography: Muse.  “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable,” “The 2nd Law: Isolated System.”  The 2nd Law.  CD.  Helium 3, Warner Bros. Records.  September 28, 2012.

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