Muse – Simulation Theory
Muse used to be one of my favorite bands back when their focus was on modern heavy progressive rock. The 1999 debut “Showbiz” built on the sound of Radiohead’s “OK Computer” and it seemed as if the English trio led by Matt Bellamy could do no wrong as “Origin of Symmetry” (2001), “Absolution” (2003) and “Black Holes and Revelations” (2006) were all filled with songs larger than life. Muse then seemed like a Rush for the new millennium or like a hard rock Radiohead with Jeff Buckley sensibilities and Queen bombast. While “The Resistance” (2009) was good also they somewhat lost me with “The 2nd Law” (2012) and I barely gave “Drones” (2015) a chance.
This brings us to their eighth studio album, “Simulation Theory”, presented in an album cover designed by Kyle Lambert, best known for his work with Netflix series “Stranger Things”. The music has a similar 1980’s retro vibe from the get-go, kicking off with the anthemic “Algorithm”. Great track! Once more working with producer Rich Costey, the album has been in the works since early last year. Released as the first single back in May 2017, “Dig Down” includes the lyrics “when God decides to look the other way and a clown takes the throne, we must find a way”. A dig at Donald Trump, I’d presume, but aside from this I actually find this to be one of the more boring tracks on the album. I’d recommend checking out the acoustic gospel version of “Dig Down” on the deluxe editions of the album, however. That one’s nice!
Electronic synth-rock sounds rules the game on the actual album and of the eleven tracks, four more have also already been released as singles. “Thought Contagion” is one of the better tracks here – complete with a crowd pleasing sing-along-chorus – but the singles also include lightweights “Something Human”, “The Dark Side” (the lyrics keeps repeating “Break me out, let me flee” and I sadly tend to feel likewise) and “Pressure”, which is infectiously poppy in an almost Michael Jackson fashion.
There’s also plans to make music videos for all the remaining tracks, all being science fiction-themed with 1980s aesthetics. “Break It to Me” has a fairly heavy opening riff but it sadly fails to materialise into anything particularly interesting. At times the vocals approaches those of Nina Simone (whose version of “Feeling Good” was covered on “Origin of Symmetry”), if only it hadn’t been for all those effects. “Blockades” is perhaps the song that comes closest to Muse of old. Heavy and epic in all the right ways while still melodic and catchy.
Bellamy channels his inner Prince in the Timbaland collaboration “Propaganda” and there’s even some Swedish connections as Tove Lo adds vocals to “Get Up and Fight”, a song co-written and produced by Johan “Shellback” Schuster. I do like these but as the band ends the album by taking us into “The Void”, I can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed. It all sounds very professional and catchy, as can be expected, but Muse currently fail to engage me as they once did. But perhaps I’m too harsh, this is certainly a good modern pop-rock album that deserves to be heard. It’s just that I expect so much more from Muse.
“Simulation Theory” is also available in a Deluxe edition with 5 bonus tracks and a Super Deluxe edition with 10 bonus tracks. These offer no new songs but various alternative versions of songs from the main album. Instrumentals, live performances, remixes, acoustic versions and such. I’d say these are for die-hard fans only, aside from that previously mentioned Gospel version of “Dig Down” which I do think deserves to be heard.
Title: Simulation Theory
Label: Warner Bros/Helium-3
Date of release: 2018-11-09
Time: 42:12 (Deluxe version: 58:59, Super Deluxe version: 78:56)
Stand out track: Thought Contagion