Here’s part two of our musings on The 2nd Law (I’ll stop, I promise). The first part is here.
Prelude & Survival
I’m taking these two together because the Prelude is an instrumental introduction to Survival. Survival itself is another anthemic “me against the world” song, casting things in terms of violence and competition. This is probably one of the central conceits in Muse’s work, at least so far as I’m familiar with them: the world is a competition and getting what you want involves a fight and, probably, making sure someone else doesn’t get it.
This is an overtly political assumption. Life, in the biological sense, is not only a competition, but also an act of cooperation. The point of this song is that the speaker is awesome and will reveal how awesome they are at a later time. This can be an empowering message, but it does bother me how antagonistic the message has to be.
This card is very appropriate. It traditionally depicted beggars and kings riding a mill wheel up and down, rising and falling in position as fortune decreed. It’s a reminder that we don’t control everything in our lives. A lot of things are out of our hands, like genetics, culture, and (in America especially) how much money we make.
The song is trying to fight against this, by self-talking oneself into success. That’s not a bad thing, on its own: positive self-talk does help. But there’s this feeling, with lines like “vengeance is mine,” that the speaker is sulking a little. The situation is actually bad, and the speaker is dreaming of when it won’t be bad again. I’ve done that a lot. I suppose everyone does, a little.
This song is all about supporting another person in their time of weakness. Muse is at its best when they forget about getting even and just reach out their hands. This song demonstrates that, though there’s still a “they” that’s bad, somewhere, somehow, doing something to the listener.
The sound of the song is a funny mix of glam and, like, dubstep in the background. It works, and it adds this feeling of two things meshing, which is a very nice tone for a song about offering help in a time of need.
Page of Cups
This card can often indicate a surprise, though one that’s hard to understand. The fish is popping up out of the cup. The artist says of this card that the fish can represent the unconscious prodding the conscious mind with a surprising idea.
In this song, I would say the intuitive side wins out. The song doesn’t have a strategy or a battle plan. It’s about emotionally supporting someone. If the card can be internal — conscious and unconscious — it can be external as well — fighter and supporter.
That makes me think of one thing that can be seen as a bit surprising: since the song is fairly romantic sounding, and since most of Muse’s songs are heterosexual, then this is a song about a man offering to support a woman as she fights off the pains of life. That’s a basic reversal of the standard song, though it’s by no means uncommon.
This song is the first on the album that really matches the “fuck the man” tone of Muse’s usual work with, you know, lyrics that say to fuck the man. This song likens the competitive spirit to animal violence. It exhorts the listener to be more and more violent, buying increasingly costly and ridiculous things, like an ocean. Finally, as a good punchline should, the final line comes out of nowhere and says the listener should just kill themselves.
Eat the rich, amirite?
Ace of Wands
The ace of wands marks the beginning of a creative or passionate endeavor. The sunflowers below show that things will grow and blossom because of the sun’s heat — that’s the kind of “fire” this card represents. In the context of this song, it seems very odd: the song is destructive. But I think this makes a lot of sense. The song is indicating where the problem in the world lies: with the raw greed of people who turn themselves into “animals” (note that I don’t like to describe bad people as animalistic, given that we’re all animals anyway and most non-human animals are actually much nicer than we are. Except dolphins; those guys are assholes). The beginning of change would actually require the “death” of the old guard that came before and weigh things down. So in this case, the card indicates the fires that people use to burn stubble out of fields for the following year’s planting: a moment of energetic destruction that leaves things fresh and ready to blossom again.
I like this song quite a bit. It also pairs nicely with the previous song. This song is gentle and quiet at first, and it talks about what the speaker wants: freedom and the natural world. But it’s “owned” now, and that very thing makes us feel alienated and imprisoned. The song picks up in intensity a bit, as it talks about what we (the song switches from I to we) need. Overall pretty good, though maybe it’s not the quintessential Muse rock song (that is, as always, “Supermassive Black Hole”).
Well, the song references “running around in circles.” The chariot depicts motion. Usually it’s controlled, as the card, as here, depicts a powerful person on a chariot with two animals yoked (the animals have been everything from horses to sphinxes). The song, in this context, is about the push forward to a better world, a better time of life. The speaker wants freedom to move around, to enjoy the world, which is exactly what the chariot has.
If you think of the major arcana as stations in a typical life, the chariot is right after the Lovers and right before Strength (or Justice, depending on who you ask). Either way, the chariot comes before full adult responsibility or tasks and right after the blossoming of relationships and love. So it’s a kind of late adolescence or early adulthood card, when you are powerful enough to go out on your own and free enough to actually go do that. The song longs for that kind of freedom again. Most of us do, at some point or another.
The Big Freeze
The previous song focuses on the healing power of freedom; this song is about hibernation. The conflicting imagery is astronomical: suns cooling and stellar gas clouds collapsing. We are collapsing into those clouds, which serves as a reminder of the origin of all matter from “outer space.” It’s a kind of “as above, so below” metaphor: sometimes we collapse and sometimes we expand, just like the world around us. The question that leave us is — what did “we” destroy that was beautiful?
Knight of Wands
The knights are often about motion or journeying, like the Chariot. But the knight of wands isn’t always in control of the journey. This is a card of passion, and some decks depict the knight as off his or her course, with the horse bucking and rearing, as in this example. This looks a lot calmer, though, so the card doesn’t mean things are crazy. It’s just that they could get that way.
Did the knight come from that mountain the background? Or are they eventually going there? It’s not clear, but the journey here is exciting and long-term. If we destroyed anything, we’ll find something else to replace it. This song is positive despite those sad notes in it. That’s probably another of Muse’s strengths: blending positive and negative in one song, through single lines that we might miss the first time we listen.
We’re most of the way through. The final post will deal with the two-part concept thingie at the end, whence the album title comes. So far we see a lot of conflict and a lot of retreat from it, both spatial and emotional. The speaker seems to be trying to find a safe way to live life and protect the beautiful things in it. It reminds me a bit of Argus actually. I’ll see you then!