MUSE // "SIMULATION THEORY" - ALBUM REVIEW
WELCOME TO THE SIMULATION: THE LATEST DYSTOPIAN ALBUM FROM THE ALL-ENCOMPASSING ROCK TRIO IS POLARISING BUT UNAPOLOGETIC
Rock juggernauts Muse have been no stranger to experimentalism throughout their twenty-plus years as a band, and definitely have not been afraid to err on the side of controversy when doing so. From the classically-driven The Resistance, the more straight-up meaty rock of Drones to whatever style you would describe The 2nd Law as - the trio’s creative output has wavered dramatically in their recent releases, to mixed reception from their adoring but overtly nostalgic fanbase. As we dive into their eighth studio effort Simulation Theory, it seems their latest folly has been to pursue a wacky but diverse take on electronica meets synthwave meets cheese rock…. As you do. Matt Bellamy is probably laughing at us all from his custom-built moon base.
Simulation Theory could be interpreted as a postlude to the theme carried through from the 2015 album Drones, depicting a rebuild in a world decimated by the onslaught of the automated war machines and nuclear warheads. Dealing with the newly obliterated landscape being replaced by a simulation with a surprisingly light science fiction and retro theme is an idea that flows well and was to be expected from Muse’s playbook.
Frontman Matt Bellamy is not one to shy away from political concepts, and it is obvious the album has drawn influence from the substantial change in the world’s social climate over the past two years. Lead single Dig Down embraces an optimism in social activism, whilst in contrast Thought Contagion addresses the theory of misleading thoughts and ideas spreading like a cancer within society. Combine this all with a heavy dose of retroised electronics, and you have a general idea of what Simulation Theory is all about.
Like all of Muse’s releases, there are moments when the musical genius and clinical insanity combine to form this wall of pure and beautiful overblown glory. Case in point is opener Algorithm, where brooding synths and theatrically over-the-top falsetto punctuate post-apocalypticism in a manner that seems to marry both Stranger Things and the TRON soundtracks - in typical Muse fashion, it’s as bizarre as it is oddly addictive. Just wait until you hear the ‘alternate reality’ version. Simulation Theory’s strong start continues with the gorgeously executed synth rock of The Dark Side and into Pressure - probably the album’s standout track, drummer Dom Howard providing a strong backing to the cadence of brass licks and operatic vocal work.
Simulation Theory truly hits the weird spot in its middle third, jumping from genre to genre in a fashion that puts even The 2nd Law to actual shame. Propaganda’s mash-up of R’n’B finger clicks and silkily sharp acoustic guitar leads into the remix-ready Break It To Me, halftime industrial breaks and detuned metallic riffs complementing the most Tom Morello-esque solo found in a while. Then we find the unlikely folk-pop number in Something Human - wildly overproduced and too much of a crooner for some, featuring some of Muse’s sweetest harmonies to date amongst a wash of drawn out synths over jangly arpeggios. The acoustic version found on the super deluxe edition might of better taste to most.
Despite all the weirdness, Simulation Theory is an oddly consistent album. It’s exploring territory that depending on what type of Muse fan you are, you’ll either be embracing or be praying to every deity that they hadn’t bothered. It’s brash, unapologetic and out on the wild side of the audio spectrum, but might just be a hidden classic in Muse’s discography.
Muse - Simulation Theory is out now. Stream the album below: