Muse, "The 2nd Law" (Warner Bros.)
The English rock band Muse set off a worldwide hunt for synonyms for "overblown" earlier this year when it unleashed "Survival," a piece of choral apocalypse that somehow became the official anthem of the London Summer Olympics. Yet it turns out "Survival" was just a warmup: With a title inspired by the second law of thermodynamics, Muse's latest studio album opens with a tune called "Supremacy" (think Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" remade for a James Bond flick) and only grows bolder from there. In "Follow Me," the band layers lush Hollywood strings over an arena-scaled dubstep drop, while the two-part title track climaxes in a barrage of dentist-drill guitars and disembodied robot voices.
What distinguishes "The 2nd Law" from earlier Muse records is that Matt Bellamy and his bandmates have finally made room in their super-sized sound for a sense of humor. This is a far funnier (and funkier) effort than 2009's "The Resistance," which handled similar themes with a glum sobriety. Here "Madness" rides a fat-bottomed R&B groove, and the slap-bass-enhanced "Panic Station" feels like an homage to Robert Palmer's mid-'80s soul-rock crew, the Power Station.
MIKAEL WOOD, Los Angeles Times
Diana Krall, "Glad Rag Doll" (Verve)
It's possible to entertain two mildly conflicting views of this disc. First, you could understand it as a nifty bit of pop archaeology: a bouquet of songs culled mostly from the '20s and '30s. But you could also recognize it as a shrewd recalibration for one of the more stable properties in the music industry, complete with producer T Bone Burnett, his cabinet of wonders and trusted musical crew.
As a throwback jazz singer and a swinging pianist, Krall favors music of crispness and low-gloss polish. Working with Burnett meant more reverberant guitars and stomping rhythm. Krall is self-conscious enough to call this enterprise into question herself, or so it seems. "All the world can see behind your mask," she sings in the title track. A delicate duet with guitarist Marc Ribot, it's the moral heart of this album, an indictment of womanly artifice. The closing track, "When the Curtain Comes Down," offers a more strident bolt of meta-awareness, with Krall's husband, Elvis Costello, in vaudevillian-barker mode.
It's never a bad idea to engage Krall's friskier side, and it's satisfying to hear the swagger in her phrasing on "I'm a Little Mixed Up." On "Prairie Lullaby," she plays the cowboy angle straight, while emphasizing the drowsiness in her delivery. She sounds even better on another song with country pedigree: "Wide River to Cross," by Buddy and Julie Miller. However old-fashioned, the song is a contemporary outlier on an album crowded with relics, and its beautiful realization invites the question of what album Krall and Burnett might make without any point to prove.
NATE CHINEN, NEW YORK TIMES