By now you’ve all had a chance to digest Muse’s new album trailer. If you haven’t watched it, check it now.
Are you confused, excited or disappointed?
Where exactly is Muse taking us with this new album, The 2nd Law?
We asked two of our writers, Michel Dussack and Emilia D’Albero, to analyze the trailer and the promising (or bleak) future for the band’s new music.
Feel free to share you thoughts in the comments section below.
So here’s the thing – from what I’ve seen about half the fans are happily receiving this new sound, and the other half are screaming in horror ready to throw their copies of Origin of Symmetry in a bonfire. The focus of this piece is going to be those last 30 seconds that has everyone divided, because I think we can all agree that the beginning, while excellent, is nothing new from a band that has consistently experimented with orchestration and bombast.
Fans and certain news outlets were quick to point out that Muse had ‘gone dubstep’ and likened them to Skrillex almost immediately. I’d like to address two points here. Firstly, they haven’t gone dubstep. IT’S A 30 SECOND CLIP! Maybe some people feel comfortable judging an entire album of material based on 30 seconds, but personally, I’d like to wait for the album to actually be released before condemning them to a new genre. Let’s look, for a moment, at what happens if I take 30 seconds of each of their prior albums out of context. If we take ‘Unintended’ from Showbiz, they’re an acoustic ballad band; ‘Micro Cuts’ from Origin of Symmetry makes them some weird band with an extreme falsetto based singer; ‘Interlude’ from Absolution makes them an instrumental band; ‘Take a Bow’ from Black Holes and Revelations makes them an electronica band; ‘Guiding Light’ from The Resistance makes them a cheesy anthem band. So clearly we can’t just take pieces of music out of context.
I’d like to add in, that I wouldn’t even call what we hear in this video dubstep. It begins as a guitar riff, and throughout the clip is distorted and warped beyond recognition, much as guitarist Matthew Bellamy typically does with his Kaoss pad in a live environment, but in a similar pattern as dubstep. Yes there are the wubwubwubwub noises you’d expect, but beneath it is also Dominic Howard’s drumming and Christopher Wolstenholme’s bass line. It’s not straight dubstep, instead it’s a fusion with rock, and it’s something that seems a natural progression given the handful of electronic tracks on the last couple albums.
My second point is that for some reason, dubstep has become a dirty word in the music world. People like to hate it. And the people that do have good reason to – some of it is awful. But to witness dubstep in a live environment by a master of the art, it clear that this is more than a few wubwubs and a ‘drop’. Dubstep blends all sorts of seemingly random noises to create music, and to be able to manipulate that many sounds at once like some artists do, is nothing short of art. So what I’m really trying to say is, so what if Muse makes a dubstep song? If anyone can pull it off, especially in a live environment, Muse can. Take Bellamy’s guitar playing along with his ability to manipulate sounds via the aforementioned Kaoss pad and touring musician Morgan Nicholls and they’d be able to do it better than anyone in the business, without the need for giant stage setups. Muse have never been a band that puts out what other people want to hear, and it honestly feels like this is a natural combination of some of the heavier elements from their songs and their electronica tracks.
Obviously this video has polarized their fans, but what it’s really done, is create such a stir in the music community that it’s hard to avoid talking about it. Isn’t that exactly what an album trailer is supposed to do?
There is no denying it- many of Muse’s strengths are in their live performances. Matt Bellamy is a terrific, entertaining frontman who knows how to work and crowd and an instrument at the same time, which is very rare these days. The band has won numerous awards for their live performances, including NME’s “Best Live Band” award and Q’s “Best Live Act in the World Today,” all of which are extremely impressive and extremely accurate. Anyone who has ever seen Muse perform would agree with this, but there is certainly a reason why this band has come so far and become so well-known for their performances. It’s simple, really- Muse know how to rock. Or at least, they used to. Nowadays, you get “Newborn,” “Time is Running Out,” and “Supermassive Black Hole” (and maybe “Citizen Erased,” if you’re lucky) during the main set, and “Knights of Cydonia” in the encore, and the rest of the set is full of their newer, lighter tracks that the fans don’t seem to enjoy as much.
A few years ago, Muse would play some of their heavier tracks, like “Dead Star” and “Hysteria,” and their crowds would go wild, moshing and jumping and screaming lyrics. Since the release of their most recent album, The Resistance, the energy level at their shows has dipped; during their set at L.A. Rising last summer, Muse played a few tracks off of The Resistance and some people in the crowd who were waiting to see Rage Against the Machine actually started setting things on fire to pass the time. If that isn’t a hint to bring back the heavier stuff, I don’t know what is. My point is, Muse are known and loved for their ability to seriously rock and blow the roof off of a venue, which you simply cannot do with orchestral music and Bellamy’s underdeveloped version of dubstep. What would you rather hear from a live rock band, the “Heartbreaker” riff or Bellamy twiddling randomly on his Kaoss pad for 30 seconds? I’ll take the riff, please.
There is a reason I don’t pay to see Skrillex or any other dubstep artist live- If I’m paying for a show, I should at least be paying for an entertaining show, not to watch a guy with a stupid haircut press buttons and spin knobs. Matt Bellamy has an exciting personality on stage; he does crazy dances, abuses his instruments in the best of ways, and he really knows how to entertain a crowd while still being the incredible musician that he is. I believe that most fans would want to see Bellamy dancing around the stage and only playing with the Kaoss pad a little bit, instead of seeing him produce dubstep with the Kaoss pad.
I mentioned before the shift in setlist quality from then to now, which supports the argument for my next point- experimenting isn’t always a good thing. Sure, Matt Bellamy is an excellent composer and I love when he puts bits of classical music into his songs, like “Butterflies and Hurricanes,” but writing a 3-part “symphony” was a little strange for a rock band. I understand that Muse have always been somewhat strange and so has their music, but they have always come back to their roots- good, loud, head-bang-able rock music. I respect the decision and ability of a band to experiment with their sound and change things around, but sometimes it just doesn’t work.
The Resistance is a prime example of how Muse’s experimentation just didn’t work; “United States of Eurasia” was pretty but boring, “Guiding Light” is almost unbearable to listen to, and the “Exogenesis” symphony left me wondering if Bellamy was playing a joke on us or if he had really forgotten that a guitar riff is a thing that exists. Since then, the material that Muse have been putting out has just gotten progressively worse. “Neutron Star Collision” is an abomination of a song that I listened to twice and am still trying very hard to forget about, and now this “album trailer”. This video does not show Muse’s progress since The Resistance; if anything, it shows regression.
They have simply taken the “dystopian conflict” theme too far, and this video makes it extremely cheesy. I mean, really, Muse? Violins playing a quick, frightening tune over a concerned-looking news anchor talking about an energy crisis? It’s like you composed the soundtrack for watching the news. Even the graphics in the video seem similar to the graphics they used on The Resistance Tour in the last few years. Quickly changing numbers and images of an imperfect world are getting old, as is the use of classical music. We’re fully aware of what an incredible classical musician Bellamy is, but I think that he should use that particular talent for composing more film scores instead of symphonies on his albums. As I mentioned before, the fans have had a more intense reaction to their heavier stuff, and many have scorned their most recent releases. Quite frankly, I am hoping that this 2 minutes video is not an accurate preview of what’s to come, but rather an overdramatic publicity stunt to get people interested to see what Muse will be doing next.
Of course, there is a possibility that Muse are, in fact, “trolling”. Back in November when they started recording, Bellamy took to Twitter and asked the fans what “musical direction” the band should go in. Obviously they received a flood of responses and Bellamy jokingly responded with “Ok, will start on christian gangsta rap jazz odyssey, some ambient rebellious dubstep and face melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia.” Obviously putting all of that on one album would be difficult, if not impossible, but it seems like Bellamy is attempting to do at least some of it in the album trailer. Muse fans have always been a bit overzealous, to put it lightly, and Muse have always been a bit ridiculous and bombastic, so I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if The 2nd Law were just an elaborate hoax to get the fans riled up and ready for the real album to drop. The other element of the video that makes me think that it could be a joke is the font that they used. Call me crazy, but the block letters look like something I could have created on Microsoft Powerpoint in the 5th grade. I just think that Muse are classy enough to have chosen a more elegant, appropriate font for the heavy subject matter that they are tackling with this video.
In my opinion, the video as a whole is a little too ridiculous and cheesy to be legitimate, and I desperately hope that Muse are just tricking us. However, this is a two-way street; either Muse are trolling us and there is an actual, decent album behind all this The 2nd Law nonsense, or they really have lost the plot and this sort of bombastic garbage is what they think their fans want to hear. If it turns out to be the latter, I probably won’t be buying a ticket to see them when they come to the New York City area. I guess all we can do is wait and see what happens…