Muse – ‘Survival’

The first track to surface from 'The 2nd Law'

It’s frustrating that an event as epochal (to those of us that care) as the release of a new Muse track has been assimilated into something as annoying (to those of us who live in London and have no tickets, so we’re basically paying money not to be able to get onto a tube for six weeks) as the Olympics. Like New Order’s ‘World In Motion’, ‘Survival’ might be amongst the most ear-scorchingly, arse-burstingly, aneurysm-inducingly brilliant songs in Muse’s canon, but it’ll forever be deemed corny by its association with one long-past sporting event and Matt’s opening lines about how “I’ll never lose” are instantly ridiculous thanks to the blatant fact that we’re extremely capable of – indeed, well-practiced in – losing at major sports contests and will, in fact, lose in virtually every event, even wiff-waff.

Plus, let’s face it, if Muse staged the Olympics every night on their next stadium tour it’d seem like a step down in terms of spectacle and showmanship, so – with apologies to those who, unlike this writer, could give a flying Coe’s arse about the Olympics – Muse writing the official Olympic song feels a bit like Wagner writing a six-hour operatic cycle about his local car boot sale.

It sounds like one too. As Zane Lowe flicked the switch at 7.30pm, at first it appeared Muse had gone spoken-word squelchtronica and dedicated the track to Zane himself. That turned out to just be a jingle, but we wouldn’t have been all that surprised. But as soon as ‘The Prelude’ kicked in we landed slap bang back in Muse world, a cinematic swell of piano, strings and choir that – as is traditional on Muse albums – picks up where the final track of ‘The Resistance’ left off, deep in full-on symphonic country.

With a hint of 30s Busby Berkeley grace, this stunning orchestral refrain left us convinced for thirty seconds that the dubstep thing was all a publicity stunt and that Muse, having reached the point on ‘Exogenesis’ where they were now basically classical composers, had decided that was the ultimate end-point to their musical journey, given up innovating and evolving, sat down and simply demanded ‘more viola!’.

Then ‘Survival’ turns into a Cossack barbershop Blur. Finger-clicks. Jaunty pianos. Male choirs hoofing around on their haunches. And Matt delivering the central Olympic-themed conceit: “Life’s race/I’m gonna win/I’ll light the fuse/And I’ll never lose”. Pretty crude, to-the-point stuff for the man who’s usually to be found exposing global power-cult conspiracies in song but – putting aside the inadvisable references to lit fuses, considering – the self-belief here soon goes beyond trying to gee up our synchronised snot-flicking team to a bronze.

“I choose to survive/Whatever it takes,” Matt seethes before sounding like he’s entering every event at once: “You won’t pull away/I’ll keep up the pace/I’ll reveal my strength to the whole human race”. As he reaches a histrionic crescendo about vengeance, emoting like a comic book villain being bombarded with red hot Queen riffs as his evil lair crumbles, it’s clear this is a song more about defiance than competition, a message not to or about the athletes but rousing the listener not to give up the minute life hits you like a javelin through the neck but excel whichever way you can.

‘Survival’ gradually emerges as another of Muse’s chorus-less, build-to-a-cataclysmic-climax mood pieces in the vein of previous album openers ‘Apocalypse Please’ and ‘Take A Bow’ – a show of muscle and grandeur that doesn’t necessarily sign-post the direction of the album as a whole (indeed, Matt claimed the rest of the album was much more varied in his Zane Lowe interview). But as it reaches a pounding peak that sounds like Kronos out of Wrath Of The Titans has taken up the guitar – all stomping vocoder bass, Egyptian-tinged finger-tapping solos harking back to ‘Muscle Museum’ and gangs of operatic Cossacks chanting what sounds like “Fight! Fight! Win! Win!” – Matt’s theatrical warble seems a little forced, stagey and affected, his final ululating falsetto scream an attempt to somehow get even more epic when they were quite epic enough as it was, thanks very much.

It’ll certainly make the rest of the world’s athletes believe that Britain is populated solely by immortal classical Gods who can probably throw a shot put as far as Istanbul, but come the album we’d appreciate a little more dubstep.

Mark Beaumont