Random Access Memories
The providers of the official London 2012 soundtrack are part of this nation's rich tapestry.
It's odd to think that The 2nd Law is only Muse's sixth album. Each of the Teignmouth trio's releases is so huge and sprawling, it feels like half a dozen sets every time. Like Queen, another great British institution before them, they're determined to up the grandeur on every appearance and rarely let it fade, coming back every couple of years with a record that sets new highs in stupendous showboating. But on this occasion everything's different. Early mischievous reports from frontman Matt Bellamy suggested we were in for a jazz odyssey; more recent word has trumpeted a dubstep influence. A whole new Muse! But really? Really?
Well, of course not. Once a prog rock warrior, always a wild-eyed proponent of massive guitar pyrotechnics, complex time signatures and songs that sound as if they were recorded in the eye of a storm. No jazz excursions here but – oh, go on then – they have tossed a bit of dubstep into the maelstrom.
The dubstep dabble comes on the two-part title track that closes the album. The 2nd Law: Unsustainable rides Satan's choir and a big metallic Daft Punk voice while battling dubstep's dragging beats and bass – quite the cacophony, but offset by part two, Isolated System, where soft, found-sound broadcasts mix with Tubular Bells synths. It's an effects-laden close with Bellamy marginalised, but elsewhere he's very much to the fore, and in more familiar territory too.
Indeed, we're straight in with the absurd on opener Supremacy – "You don't have long/I am onto you/It's time to destroy your supremacy!" – where the Bond theme, Led Zeppelin's Kashmir and a strident Bellamy squirm for space. So far, so understated. It's almost matched for ridiculousness on the rioting mayhem of Animals, Eric Clapton guitar pitched against Radiohead glitch, or Big Freeze as Bellamy straps on his Bono voice and ringing Edge guitar to make a wonderful, awesome pop monster. And of course we already know Olympic theme Survival, a right old vamp through Gregorian chants and Brian May patented solos that drove our brave athletes onto great things. Assuming that's what did it.
Amid all this glorious bluster though, there's some wriggle room for more subdued stuff. Bellamy sings for his baby son on Follow Me, promising to always protect him against soft guitar chords and bubbling synths. Obviously that protection comes "when darkness falls", nothing too mundane, but it's a touching moment. And new single Madness is an excellent anomaly, an addictive little melody worming around TV On The Radio funk. Naturally it's followed by the no-holds-barred Panic Station which takes that funk into flashier climes, Duran Duran at their most ego-fired, but it's all about the money's worth.
We're only slightly conned when bassist Chris Wolstenholme takes the mic for Save Me and Liquid State, some rather characterless rock before the big finish. Otherwise The 2nd Law is opulence to the max, Muse at their staggering, swaggering best, making their country proud. Big, bold and brash is just the way we like them.