Famed British rock band Muse’s eighth studio album, Simulation Theory, fully embraces the electronic sphere of their sound and, unfortunately, it doesn’t pay off. Their unique brand of stadium-filling, grandiose progressive rock takes a backseat in favour of synth-heavy, 80s-inspired pop-rock, a departure from Muse’s previous guitar-focused 2015 release, Drones.
Simulation Theory has a much lighter tone to the anti-war themes of Drones, with a sci-fi focus revolving around questions of reality. However, expect to find a continuation of the band’s socially conscious lyricism throughout. Whilst the result is unmistakably Muse, primarily due to the emphasis on frontman Matt Bellamy’s distinctive vocals, the 11 tracks are lacklustre and will leave you wishing for something more memorable.
The album opens in typical Muse fashion with the orchestral infused ‘Algorithm’ to launch the listener into Simulation Theory. The track introduces the theme of simulated reality and draws inspiration from the synthwave genre with its electronic bassline and arpeggios, a sound heard throughout the album. The follow-up track ‘The Dark Side’, however, lacks the strength to follow. It is not until the latest released single and third track ‘Pressure’ that Simulation Theory arrives with a hard-hitting and catchy song. The driving riff of ‘Pressure’ is classic Muse and sounds powerful over Chris Wolstenholme’s bass. However, the electronic-focused chorus is underwhelming in comparison and introduces the problem of Simulation Theory; it can’t seem to find its feet.
The album lacks the heavy riffs and individual rock identity that people come to expect from a band like Muse
‘Propaganda’ and ‘Break it to Me’ act as prime examples of the album’s overproduction and convoluted sound. The juxtaposing structure of ‘Propaganda’ is jarring, jumping from Bellamy’s vocals to the heavy, dubstep-esque bass riff to a slide guitar section. You can’t help but think that if the production was stripped back and there was a greater focus on instrumentation the songs would really shine. ‘Break it to Me’ is a particular contender for this. The Rage Against The Machine-inspired guitar intro and solo sounds fantastic and is representative of the exciting experimentation that Muse is known for, yet is given little time to develop before the song jumps in a different direction.
This lack of identity is heard across all the tracks. The album was recorded with a reduced focus on the product as a whole and rather on individual tracks and this shows. The second single, ‘Thought Contagion’ lives up to Muse’s history of epic progressive rock, but with their new synth-heavy sound, is sandwiched in-between two wildly sounding tracks that prevents Simulation Theory from having a distinct flow. ‘Something Human’, a folk-rock inspired song lacks any genuine emotion and ‘Get Up and Fight’ takes the plunge deep into pop anthem territory.
Muse’s lyrics have always been slightly cringe-worthy but without a strong song behind them, they are exposed for their lack of inspiration as heard on these two tracks. The final three songs are more on brand for Muse but unfortunately cannot bolster the album. Bellamy’s falsetto vocals are as good as ever, but his guitar solos such as that on ‘Blockades’ don’t live up to his prowess nor are they given enough time to breathe. Simulation Theory closes with ‘The Void’, a dark and atmospheric finale that unfortunately falls flat due to the lack of continuity on the album.
Lack of identity is heard across all the tracks
Having seen Muse at the Emirates Stadium following the release of The 2nd Law and experiencing the power of their progressive rock stylings in such an atmosphere, I can’t help to feel that few of the songs from Simulation Theory would have the same impressive and imposing effect. The album lacks the heavy riffs and individual rock identity that people come to expect from a band like Muse, something that younger bands such as the Psychedelic Porn Crumpets are currently achieving. Whilst experimentation with a new musical direction for the band should be encouraged with Bellamy having being quoted that “the guitar has become a textural instrument rather than a lead instrument”, Muse’s first attempt at the alternative is ultimately disappointing.