Gun Rights

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Sometimes I think I should blog about more things in the political arena, but that takes a lot of effort to craft things that are already said somewhere else by someone who is more eloquent and better informed.  In other words, it takes time and energy.  

This post won’t take much time, and the subsequent emotional appeals for gun control following the Newtown, CT tragedy, although fully expected, bother me.  It’s difficult to respond to any of the recent tragedies caused by assault weapons, because I don’t subscribe to that rhetoric.  Those that do seek in some way to limit the scope of harm caused by high capacity guns when used with evil intent. 

The 2nd Amendment is very inconvenient for those who would prefer abolition of guns, but that vision has no hold in the reality of the world today, or ever, unless human nature becomes less human.  So, we’ll likely see a return on the ban on the sales of assault rifles with a pistol grip and more than one other “evil” feature, such as a suppressor fitting, bayonet lug, and such.  This accomplishes nothing aside from limiting consumer choices of citizens who choose to buy weapons.  It has no impact on massacres such as Newtown or Va. Tech, but it does serve as a balm for those who insist something must be done about the tools used. 

I don’t own an assault rifle, and I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve needed a gun.  But the following video, featuring Dr. Susan Gratia Huff  during the Brady Bill hearings, acutely sums the points that I believe in, and, in fact, the rights given to us in our Constitution.

She survived Luby’s Massacre, where 50 people were shot and 23 killed.  Either side of the gun rights/control argument can present sympathetic case studies to support their positions, but hers speaks not just to the law, but the Bill of Rights.  Her weapon, in the context of gun control advocates that seek to ban weapons, essentially was.  The lunatic’s was not.

For further consideration:  Bath School Disaster.  No guns to blame.  No violent TV.  No violent movies. No video games.  Evil is the problem.  Always has been, always will.

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MUTEMATH – Live at Atlantic Station

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This was my first concert for a band that my son introduced to me.  Before, it’s always been the other way around.  This, of course, did not reverse the cash flow either.  So, I bought his ticket. And a friend of his, too.  What’s the price of a Saturday night out for a father/son memory, right?00610

Well this truly was a night out.  The venue was Atlantic Station at Central Park.  You’re thinking NYC, an amazing green space in the city.  It’s just like that, except reduce it to a large paved courtyard surrounded by retail buildings, dressed in holiday style.  Now add a tall lighted Christmas tree, a fenced in area around that tree further reducing the available area (particularly in front of the band) and there you go.  Central Park, Atlanta style.  Not that I’m complaining.  At $10 each, just about any concert is a bargain.

This was the fourth and final concert for Atlantic Station’s Winter Wonder Jam Series, each held on a Saturday evening, shows starting at 6:30.  Really, thinking about it, that makes perfect since.  Weather forecasts are unknown, s start early and wrap up early... it could be cold outside or worse. 

But wait! There’s more!  As an unadvertised bonus, there were two opening acts.  Not one.  Two.  And cool temperatures are cooling further.  As one nearby couple commented, “We should have eaten before we came.  Do you think we can leave and come back?”  Yes, and they did.  So much for inspired scheduling.

The words of cynic-musician James McMurtry come to mind.  “I thought I was an artist.  Come to find out I’m a beer salesman.”  Thus, the longer show is required.  Actually, beer was not much in evidence, likely due to co-sponsor Finlandia Vodka.  They got some business, but there was a steady stream of people returning with hot chocolate.  I was too cheap to go figure out where and suffered for it.

First up, Tesla Rosa, from Nashville.  Kind of a cool name, actually.  Featured were a Kurt Cobain wannabe, a Slash wannabe, and a bassist and drummer who knew how to play but without showmanship.  That was the suitable summation from my son.  They played for a full, miserable hour.  I recognized what I was hearing right off, though, and gave up my close to the stage standing position for a ledge to sit on towards the back.  Winning.

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Next was The Features.  Again from Nashville, this band played a mix of Indie adventurousness with, at times, some straightforward musical hooks.  Pretty good, but at the conclusion, it was officially cold.

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And so, when Mutemath took the stage, it was already later than when I figured we would be done.  The band entered with an “of the people” walk through the crowd to get to the stage, always a cool thing.  And it’s immediately apparent why this is the headlining act.

Star power. 

Vocalist Paul Meany elevated the evening both in terms of of vocal ability and audience connection, and the placement of Darren King (drums) at stage right added significantly to the energy level.

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Nominally a Christian band, their lyrics are fairly obtuse and occasionally name-drop “God” or “Jesus.” It’s more accurate to say that the band doesn’t posture around pessimism, hurt and anger.

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Meany, an ironic name given his positivity, for all intensive purposes, is the show.  He walks through the crowd repeatedly, crowd surfs, slaps hands, does airborne leg splits, plays keyboards with his feet...  He’s sort of a mix of Bono, Freddie Mercury, and Wayne Coyne.  In short, he sings and engages theatrically.

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I forgot to mention air-mattress surfing...

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The band played “tight” as such things are regarded.  The set list had a great flow to it in pacing and variety.  My only disappointment was that guitarist Todd Gummerman was generally hidden in shadows and was de-emphasized in the musical selections.  C’mon, let him play.

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The band played a generous 19 song set that resulted in the plug literally being pulled at 11:00, but the crowd didn’t mind as they finished up their final song without amplification.

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At which point, I was freezing.  My son and his friend, however, had remained close to the stage, and the combination of surrounding body heat and jumping up and down had warded away temperature complaints.  Complaints of sore feet due to standing on concrete for five and half hours... not my problem.

It was a great show, and I’d return to the venue on warmer nights. Or go find the hot chocolate.

4 of 5 STARS

 

 

Set List, I think:

Odd Soul
Pyrtania
Blood Pressure
Spotlight
Tell Your Heart Heads Up
Sun Ray
Backfire
One More
You Are Mine
Noticed
Control
Chaos
Armistice Outro
Equals
Break the Same
Quarantine
Reset
Collapse
Typical

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Plumbing the Depths of One’s Soul

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We’re attached to our smart phones, aren’t we?  We dress them, protect them, cherish them, and keep them close.  In the age of connectivity, we’re just as connected to our phones. In fact, misplace one, and a sense of panic may ensue.  Modern life may carry on without it, but it would be such a cruel, inefficient, detached life. 

My niece got a new iPhone 5 as a gift from her mom recently.  Of coursphoto2e, the phone is new, because the model hasn’t  been out long enough for it to be used.  Modern life involves going places, and the phone goes with you.

My brother in-law enjoys tailgating.  Satellite TV, couches, stereos with freestanding speakers, a cooler of beer, a full bar even.   Extend this across multiple tents and add a dance floor, and you get the picture.

All he needs is an occasion and guests.  And so it was that my niece, her husband, and other family and friends gathered to tailgate at the Georgia Dome for the SEC Championship game featuring Alabama and some other team (to hear them tell it).

Going tailgating?  Phones are a must.  You gotta let everyone know how fortunate you are, so you have to text.  Maybe update Facebook.  And/or tweet.  You might use the built in camera, or look up your favorite mixed drink recipe.  Heck, you can even keep up with football scores if it came down to it.

Tailgating and purses don’t mix.  A certain amount of freedom is required.  So, what do you do with you phone?  My niece cuts a trim figure, and she safely stowed her coveted (and pointedly uninsured) iPhone 5 into her snug rear pocket.

Good, right?

You’d think so.  And I’ve just laid the groundwork for some type of tragedy.  So, let’s get to it.

No, she didn’t leap to catch a football and accidentally land on unyielding ground, smashing her phone to bits.  Whew.

And, no, it didn’t fall from her pocket to meet a harsh reality called concrete.    Whew again.

You might think, given the area, some miscreant relieved her of her iPhone for an easy financial score.  Rest easy.  It wasn’t that, either.  Urban crime is a particular manifestation of evil, but what we’re arriving at is a grislier matter.    

I’ve described the scene.  What do people do at tailgate parties?  Eat and drink, of course.  Sometimes, they do this a lot. Then what do they do?

So, there she was, in the Porta Potty...  She lowers her pants, begins to squat and.... (insert a sound of your choice.  Plop?  Splat? Squish?).   There goes the iPhone.   Panic!  She looks, and... it’s a sad tale, really, meeting such a fate.  Dearly departed and buried to boot. 

In the telling, she didn’t say what her reaction was, but silently or verbally, we must imagine that her exasperation was somewhere between the piercing cry of a Pterodactyl to the wailing of souls condemned to a lake of eternal fire.  This shouldn’t happen.  It was a brand new iPhone 5!

Do you rush to action in such situations?  Well, no.  You take stock of the situation.  It’s down there, but you don’t know where.  A roll of toilet paper doesn’t equate to usable tool.  It’s just you... and the abyss...   Well, okay, there are secondary factors as well.  First, your mom will give you no end of grief, even if you are a married adult.  And you really, really liked the phone.  Heck, you need a phone.  Someone might call.  Maybe your mom.

So, with your resolve encouraged by... Well, stop.  With your revulsion somewhat lessened by a generous portion of alcohol, you do what you must when “dirty work” is at hand.  You roll up on your sleeves and get to work.

So she did just that.  And found it, finally.  Our concluding video begins about where I’ve left off.  Aside from the narrative, additional comic relief is provided by the Vaudevillian faces of Uncle Alan.

How far would you reach?

Oh, yeah.  The phone... it’s perfect! 

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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Majestic! Epic! Spectacular!  ...so the advertisements state.

Admittedly, it’s been a very long time since I read the book.  But it doesn’t require a lack of recollection to realize that splitting The Hobbit into three movies is either mining new depths of greed or a victim of hubris.  Or both.

Actually, I liked the movie about a hobbit.  Whenever Bilbo, superbly cast with Martin Freeman, is in a scene, you understand why they made a movie about him.  He relates to us.  He’s the average guy called upon for a quest, and he grows in boldness and strength beyond his diminutive stature, even by the end of Part One.  Also, the guessing game with Gollum is particularly well done.  You hate him, but you’re glad to see him, too.

Also well done are the few extra liberties taken to tie this series with LOTR.   But, I’m not confident going into the next movies, regardless of how splendid a single dragon eye appears at the end of the movie.  But I am thankful for Bilbo (and Gollum) for salvaging a film from its own majestic, epic, spectacular excesses.

Those being:

  • Thorin Oakenshield, wannabe Dwarf King.  Remember Gimli from Lord of the Rings?  Rather bulbous, ugly dude, right?   Regrettably, the producers instructed casting to find another Aragorn to play the lead.  A rather dashing dwarf, really.  All of dwarfdom rejoices that their DNA is trending towards Germanic fine features.  In fact, he looks so normal, that it’s shock to find out that he’s diminutive in the few scenes with those tallish humans.  Bad.  Really bad.  What’s the message here, kids?  If you don’t have a leading man face, you can’t play the hero.  Not that Thorin has yet proved himself one.
  • Worse:  Who decided dwarves would be relegated to comedy relief?  Do they have any skills at all?  The plate throwing tantrums at Bag End at the movie’s onset set the expectations for the film.  See a dwarf in a scene?  Let the lampoons begin.
  • Great and lousy special effects.  Battle scenes?  Aces.  A group of dwarfs beholding the majesty of Rivendell?  Put them all on the stage and hope the digital artist makes it look like they’re somewhere else.  Really bad.
  • Suspension of disbelief.  Remember how Indy jumped out of a falling airplane in a raft, landed on the top of an ice packed mountain, missed all the trees on the slopes, then fell a half mile to the river below and woke up in the tropics?  Here you go again.  It begins with small steps... like those of a band of dwarves and a hobbit skirting along (dark, moist, ancient) ledges high in the mountains.  One slip?  No problem, silly hobbit.  Let the mountains come literally alive, though, and physics are found... inconvenient.  Forget inertial forces, friction, falling boulders of mountain beings, and, well, that should be expected when mountains decided to duke it out.  I’m guessing there’s something ferrous in those hills, and our party was gifted with magnetic boots bequeathed by Galadriel in a scene cut for fear of making the movie too long.  Sorry, there should be dwarf guts splashed all over them thar hills.
  • I also don’t remember dwarves being adept at scampering up trees.  They’re mountain people, as far apart from elves as possible.  Except when it’s written into a plot.  But, to be fair, they were painted into a corner.
  • It’s not uncommon, of course, for a band of heroes to escape certain death whilst fighting multitudes.  LOTR did that with aplomb.  Aragorn and company were, however, skilled at war craft and heroic in their grit.  This band of 13 dwarves are better suited as stooges at an Orc cooking session.  Running through a gazillion goblins swing blades and shooting arrows without any mishap?  Quite easily done.  After all, they’re needed for two more movies, regardless of Tolkien’s intentions.
  • And, then there’s the aforementioned Indiana Jones scene.  Don’t you hate it when you’re fighting hordes and your whole bridge section gives way?  Yeah, me too.  But, in the hands of special effects artists, a half mile free-fall plunge is just an opportunity for a majestic, epic, and spectacular opportunity to pin the section between rock faces, bringing our intrepid crew to a mildly jarring but fully horizontal halt.  Not worth losing one’s footing, really.  All in a day’s work.  This isn’t a work of fantasy, it’s a cartoon featuring Wile E. Coyote.   Actually, by that point in the movie, it’s already demonstrated that falling significant distances is but a trifle for short and stouts.
  • Not that being short has any disadvantage.  In fact, those vertically challenged legs are perfect to outpace wolves spawned in hell.  “Run!”  And run, they do, Forrest, outpacing ferocious Wargs (think pit-bull crossed with a jaguar) until finding themselves in a spot where “no dwarf shall come to harm.” 
  • By the way, Gandalf?  Love ya, and it’s good to see so much more of ya, but... You’re not getting out of this underwhelming narrative either.  When you whisper to a butterfly to tell him that he should pass a message to the giant eagles for a last minute rescue?  That butterfly should really flit away at warp speed.  Though, I can see why you’re not too worried.  If your tree breaks and the party free-falls another cliff face, there’s probably a giant sponge at the bottom to catch you.  So never mind.  (But, just between us? That little “stun the army” spell might have actually been helpful at Moria, Helm’s Deep and the gates of Mordor.  Just sayin’).

But, never mind all that.  We didn’t arrive to pick on the movie.  We came with majestic, epic, and spectacular expectations!  And we loved it despite cringing for all the wrong reasons.

3 of 5 STARS

 

 

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The Restoration – Honor The Father

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Music is art.  A fascination with albums of eras ago was the cover art that bands would choose for their work.  It’s a rather curious endeavor, considering the effort put into the music, the imagery to capture the band’s persona or the album’s message, and, to some extent, a visual legacy to their work that will endure.

Revolver, Dark Side of the Moon, Rumours, Nevermind, The Velvet Underground & Nico... imagery that endures.  On the other hand, there are misses.   Ted Nugent’s Scream Dream, Blind Faith’s original cover, ELP’s Tarkus, or David Byrne’s and St. Vincent’s recent collaboration... what were they thinking?  

No worries with The Restoration.  When you buy an album AND opt for the additional goodies, you buy art.  It’s a minor but worthwhile push beyond the boundaries in the digital download era or the limitations of CD packaging.  Can’t stuff posters and photos into an album sleeve like The Beatles’ White Album?  Draw outside the lines.  Why not?

Well, for one, it costs money.  And it only works if 1) there’s a demand and/or 2) it’s a labor of love. 

I can’t speak to the demand of The Restoration’s music, in any form, never mind their tangible products.  But this unknown South Carolina band keeps putting out ideas that fully entertain me. 

Last year it was Constance, a “southern gothic concept album,” with accompanying book including prose, photos, and map.

This year, it’s Honor The Father, another repressive tale set in Lexington, SC, this time in 1954.   The story begins with, like any mystery, a murder, then sets out to explain the events that led up to it.   In short, Old Testament law adopted as a pathway to salvation can lead to unpleasant ends. 

As God struck Onan down for spilling his seed on the ground,
I only followed his design when I found my wife spilling mine.
And when my daughter cursed my name and put the Word of God to blame
I kept the Law, like Abraham, but God did not stop my hand – and she stopped breathing.

Like its predecessor, the songs are a play set to music, with chapters told (sung) by the different characters.  Lyrically compelling, instrumentally appropriate, vocally adequate, in sum.  Leader Daniel Machado returns with a convicted mania to his voice, leading credibility to the central character.  The point here isn’t to score Top 40 hits, but... a catchy refrain wouldn’t hurt.  In fact, it might help the desire to revisit the story again and again. 

And, again, there’s the packaging, from the envelope, to the thank you note, to the purchased gems. 

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But wait! There’s more.

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In the optional package are photographic cards, essentially symbols for each of the songs, and each includes lyrics on the back.  The map?  Well, there’s no purpose to it, really.  And, it seems, there’s an inevitability for this logical extension of a concept album for an artist who likes to draw, a spouse who likes to take pictures, and a general fondness and talent for graphic arts.  On my end, it’s very satisfying to support an artist (perhaps because I’m married to one). 

Now, if only this band would pop over to Georgia for a show...  I’m also looking forward to seeing how the next story leaps forward in time, perhaps, to the 1990’s to feature Lexington’s primary role as an Interstate pit stop for those seeking to avoid Columbia, SC. (as they should).

Music and goodies are available at the band’s website. They literally ship within a day.

Given 3 stars for musical satisfaction, 5 stars for concept and execution, which averages 4 stars... well, consider it a 3.8 for only 7 songs and 25 minutes of music.

4 of 5 STARS

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Porcupine Tree – Octane Twisted

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Somewhere in past reviews I’ve commented on live recordings.  Intruding crowd noises, less than stellar recording, Peter Gabriel-ish studio “fixes” to band or recording errors (so, is it still live?), uninspired song selections, little deviation from studio versions... whatever.

I was all but unacquainted with Porcupine Tree when I ventured a couple years ago to their Atlanta concert, not coincidentally on The Incident tour.  It was all new to me then; it’s very familiar now, as is most of their other work.  I like most of it.  I like some of it a lot.  But whether I like The Incident most because I heard it first or it’s their best is a pointless exercise. 

As the band is currently on hold due to leader Steven Wilson’s assorted side projects, the news of Octane Twisted was a pleasant surprise.  It’s a purchase to be made without fear of the peccadillos that otherwise might annoy me on a live recording.  Wilson is a gifted producer, and if there’s something I’m not supposed to hear, I’ll never hear it.

The content is impeccable, including the full Incident set list on one CD, as well as other songs that were tacked on during the tour as a second.  The sound is amazing, and it’s honest to my memory, regardless of the location at which it was recorded.  It’s also honest in that it is live.  I have the production values of the studio version in my head, and it’s amazing now to look back and hear how the band recreated the work in front of an audience.

The 2 CD pack is well worth the attention of fans of the band or others who might look to what progressive rock has evolved.  “Russia on Ice/The Pills I’m Taking” is a special treat amongst the bonus songs.

That said, it’s worth ordering the deluxe edition from the band’s site.  After exchange rates, the price escalates to ~$30.00 U.S. (including postage).  But, you get a pretty fantastic DVD that is the visual companion to Disk 1, a worthy, worthy addition.

4 of 5 STARS

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Grizzly Bear – Shields

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This was almost a spur of the moment purchase, with a short listen to the first song and a recommendation by a friend.  I liked the song, played the CD in my car, and... didn’t like it.

It’s best to pause in such situations. 

Returning to the CD a month later, I found the opening song somewhat grating, with its bombastic brass blasts that become a repetitive refrain throughout the song.  Dang it.

Pause.

The opening song, “Sleeping Ute,” isn’t a favorite, but I like it now.  In a sense, the song heralds the music to come with a type of fanfare similar to “Victory Dance” on My Morning Jacket’s last release. So, I’ve warmed to the music. 

Oh, and perhaps that’s because much of it shares a tone with one of my favorite bands, Midlake.  In fact, “What’s Wrong” (which sounds right to me) is undeniably fashioned after Midlake’s Banman and Silvercork.

It’s “indie,” which is more or less defined not by what it is but what it isn’t.  It’s not pop.  It’s not R&B.  It’s not metal.  It’s just good sounding music, often with quirks.  But there’s certainly a folksy feel to much of the set in the musical instruments and vocal approaches.  It sounds like a band effort, as opposed to a simpler, build on the demo approach.

Lyrics, well.  They’re interesting, too.  I tried to read a couple reviews of this album.  I’ll say the lyrics are such that reviewers feel compelled to elevate their diction for placement in a literary journal.  egad. The reviews are harder to read than the lyrics, which are, within the category of “obtuse,” fairly straightforward in their honesty and intent, if not clear meaning.  Overall, there’s a theme of wanting to pull away from relationships more than making them work.  That said, it’s not a maudlin affair, and the music is often upbeat and always engaging (the exception being “The Hunt”).

Musically and lyrically, there are riches here for those who are patient and pause.

Favorite Songs: “Yet Again,” “A Simple Answer,” “Gun-shy,” “What’s Wrong?”

4 of 5 STARS

 

 

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Muse – The 2nd Law

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Who is Muse, in 2012? 

Well, they’re John Barry.  He’s one of the most frequent composers of James Bond orchestration, and the cinematic undertones carry through the first song of their new CD, The 2nd Law.  Appropriately, there’s an element of dramatic theater to “Supremacy,” which has been a constant in their work.  Still, as lead singer Matthew Bellamy rages a familiar rhetoric to overthrow the powers that be, his outrageously high pitched vocals make me wonder if he’ll ever make it to the old timers’ circuit in his later years.

On the second song, “Madness,” they’re George Michael, with a nod to Bono.  At odds are the electronic squirks and the lyrics.  One is distracting flash; the other is a love song that’s sung without conviction. For a guy who is at his best railing against things, he falls short in emoting for something.

“Panic Station” recalls early 80’s euro-rock/pop, any number of bands that I didn’t like then and don’t like now.  “Survival” fits closer with their back catalogue, with fiery guitar, anthemic lyrics, snapping fingers, a corny backing chorus, and a lyric that you might have otherwise guessed was Freddie Mercury’s final act.

“Follow Me” intrudes further into Bono’s sanctimonious turf, but once again Bellamy falls short when calling attention to himself.  He’s best at pointing the finger at others.

“Animals” borrows more than just the distinctive rhythms of Radiohead.  The song sounds like I’d like to hear Radiohead today, taking their explorations and marrying them with a focused approach to something recognizable as a song.  It holds together well, until the song devolves into chants of a riotous mob.

The environment is the focus on “Explorers,” a fairly straightforward and non-aggressive Muse song, on which they sound like... Muse.  Still, if this were the “Best of Queen,” it would have a song very similar to this.

Falsettos and a clunky chorus sink “Big Freeze.”  It sounds like something I’ve heard from Muse before and, well, U2.

Hey, with bassist Chris Wolstenholme singing, now they’re Porcupine Tree, or, at least Steven Wilson on “Save Me.”  It works.

He takes the lead again on “Liquid State.”  Let’s call it Alan Parson’s Project mixed with Queens of the Stone Age... 

Theater, pomp and circumstance, bombastic over-reaching... typical Muse, returns in full form on “The 2nd Law – Unsustainable.”  And, no, please not Dubstep!

The CD closes with “The 2nd Law – Isolated System.  Beautiful piano, pulsing electronics, nice orchestration, and random clutter.  It’s interesting exit music for a band that usually pushes things over the top with a big beat.

Muse has certainly done something different here.  I find myself conflicted because, after many listenings, I cringe at how derivative it is... but I like it.

Recommended Tracks: “Animals,” “Madness,” “Save Me”

4 of 5 STARS

 

 

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