The 2nd Law

Warner\Helium 3 (2012) Matt

Muse – The 2nd Law cover artwork
Muse – The 2nd Law — Warner\Helium 3, 2012

The year is 2052. Society as we know it has completely changed. The laws of government and nation have crumbled into dust, trodden down firmly by the feet of innumerable footsoldiers of the new autocratic rulers of the world. Big Brother's voice rings from every speaker; CCTV cameras record every communication between state-fearing citizen and obedient lickspittle. Comrades huddle in the electronic glow of the always-on telescreen, longing for the freedom they barely remember as their government-rationed canned food goes uneaten. Will nobody rise up and unshackle us?

A lone figure appears on the horizon, his floor-length nylon cape almost blending in with the pollution-ridden skies. He carries a well-worn guitar, its gaudy silver hue glinting like a record executive's fake smile. He reaches the massing crowds and speaks his first words of wisdom:

"Wake to see your true emancipation is a fantasy", he intones operatically. Murmurs echo around the crowd. "Policies have risen up and overcome the brave", he adds, vaguely, to growing mutterings from his audience. "Embedded spies, brainwashing our children to be mean" he elaborates, to yells of support (I forgot to mention the plague of mean children in this dystopian future). "The time, it has come to destroy-", Matt Bellamy says (for it is he), "- your SOOOOOP-REMMA-SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO" he wails, elocution his first victim. Apparently able to decipher this mysterious incantation, the downtrodden proles of the future rise up and headbang as the rest of Muse appear and begin earnestly ripping off the Mars Volta.

Just as the crowd is all fired up for an assault on the brutal dictatorship, though, our bold hero pauses to stutter his way through a kind of Queen-parodying bass-squelchfest of bizarre backing vocals and even poorer lyrics. In the Bond movie that is a Muse album, this is the token "wooing the female" song. But fuck that, we've got an oppressive regime to overthrow!

Wait a second, though. This revolution needs funking up. Someone produces the filthiest slap bass this side of Chic. "Do what the fuck you want to", Bellamy informs the bemused crowd of rebels. "There's no-one to appease". Bellamy gyrates gruesomely to the porn-funk beat, explaining just why the song is called "Panic Station". Sixteen people in the crowd immediately vow never to have sex again.

A cut-scene. John, a hard-working former hospital porter, had given his daughter Ruby up for dead when the totalitarian state police stormed her university and took all of the protesting students for interrogation in the secret prisons which litter midwestern America. Suddenly, unexpectedly, Ruby appears on the scene, her eyes searching the crowd for John. The old man's grizzled head rises to the sound of "Prelude", his milky eyes unable to confirm what they see. Is that-? No, it couldn't be. But wait... that face, surely? It's- It's Ruby! Impossible! They said- Forget what they said! Dad, it's me! I love you! Thank you, Muse!

After this diversion, Bellamy realises the crowd need inspiring again before they can smash the capitalist consumerist state. "Vengeance is mine!" he prattles. "I won't give in!" he tells them. "Yeah, I'm gonna win!". Somewhere in an unmarked grave, thousands of miles away, the ancient corpse of a performer called Freddy Mercury begins to rotate, generating an energy field briefly strong enough to power the sixteen effects pedal racks used by Bellamy. The song ends on a crescendo that crashes down like a tidal wave made of pure shit, with the crowd chanting "FIGHT! WIN!" over Bellamy's vocal meltdown. We're not even halfway through yet.

One of the rebels digs out a synthesiser from somewhere. He has funny-looking hair, a bit like someone drew a face on a floor mop. He presses the "Muse arpeggio" button, which starts the synth playing a sequence of notes which are actually used in every single Muse song to date. After a part where Bellamy teases the crowd, pretending to launch into Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" (1:06), the unthinkable happens. The crowd gasps, unable to comprehend what their ears are telling them. Time seems to cease. Birds pause their singing. The constantly-visible drones scudding across the sky halt their progress. Muse have "gone dubstep".

The bass drop kicks in like a rip in the space/time continuum. Feverish now, the assembled throng raise their fists aloft as Bellamy follows up this one-two punch with the musical equivalent of a kick in the balls: a Bono impression. Evoking the spirits of their revolutionary ancestors U2, Muse march forward boldly in their quest to produce some of the least inspiring music it's possible to make while still sounding like the entire world is exploding. From this point onwards, all recorded music will be measured relative to this moment.

The crowd are approaching the citadel where Big Brother makes his evil rules and cunning plots to create mean children. "Analyse, advertise, expand", Bellamy commands, passive-aggressively. "Analyse, franchise, spread out" he adds, possibly advising a prospective KFC owner. "Crush those who beg at your feet" he concludes, perhaps this time addressing a Starbucks manager. There's just time to cram in another poor man's Mars Volta breakdown before the crowd start fighting one another in their fury at being forced to listen to Muse.

The band confuse the crowd's anger with excitement, assuming it was due to their brief U2 impression earlier, so they decide to improvise. "Big Freeze" hits the crowd like a fist gripping a RED iPod and a dodged tax bill. Bellamy performs his best Bono impression, to rapturous hatred.

Half of the original crowd who joined Bellamy on this quest are now dead, having succumbed to the ravages of time as the band drag themselves through yet another five minute long dirge. "Save Me!", one cries, but the band respond by playing a song that seems to be a rejected B-side from David Bowie's soundtrack to Labyrinth.

Eventually, after what seems like years, the ragged band of survivors reach the harsh metropolis where the ruling elite live. A British-sounding female voice echoes from somewhere and begins reading the Wikipedia definition of the second law of thermodynamics. A few fat dudes wearing floor-length leather jackets and neckbeards high-five one another, knowing they're at the coolest party imaginable. A robotic voice, presumably Big Brother's, cuts through the speech to announce "UNSUSTAINABLE". On second thoughts it might be the short guy out of Daft Punk.

The dubstep is back. The crowd wavers, a sense of uncertainty in the air. The wubwubwub bass dips in and out, perhaps, ah, "unsustainable"? I'll see myself out.

It's the end. The final reckoning. "Isolated System". The fat dudes nod knowingly to one another. See, that title, on first glance, sounds like it's some technical term, probably referring to a computer network or maybe a collection of cells. But on second glance, if you're intelligent enough, then maybe it means, like, a person or something. "Fuck, man", says one neckbeard to the other. "Muse are so deep".

Using a technique first pioneered by those anarchist rebels Simon and Garfunkel in the 1960s, Muse have cunningly spliced recordings of people talking about things that sound a bit political on top of some poignant piano music with rising strings. The crowd around Bellamy and co. rapidly departs. They're alone against Big Brother just as the electronic drums kick back in. It's all for nothing though: the British woman's voice loops over and over about "isolated systems" and then suddenly, aeons later, it's over. Big Brother has won.

Or has it?

Yes, yes it has. Because everybody else has almost definitely lost: the victims are countless. A half-dozen bands whose signature styles were brutally sacrificed for this failed rebellion. Millions of fans who assumed that vague, everyman lyrics rambling weakly about "them" and "supremacy" might actually have some depth. An innocent wah-wah pedal.

As the remains of the crowd depart and look for tall buildings or convenient pits to throw themselves into, Muse stare determinedly off into the middle distance, refocusing their energies. "It's a race!" sings Bellamy, one more time. "And I'm gonna win!" he yells, triumphantly. "Yes, I'm gonna win!" he sings again as his bandmates bundle him up in his cape once more, shaking their heads slightly. "You won't pull ahead!" he insists, as they load him gently into the van. "I'll reveal my strength" he tells them as the bassist pats him on the head. "To the whole human race!" he yells, accepting the cup of tea from the guitar tech. "Yes, I'm gonna win!". Time for bed, Matt.

4.5 / 10Matt • November 5, 2012

See also

Muse – The 2nd Law cover artwork
Muse – The 2nd Law — Warner\Helium 3, 2012

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