With the release of ‘Simulation Theory’, Muse brings their highly-anticipated eighth studio album. Muse was formed by Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard in 1994, in Devon. After producing a highly critically-acclaimed discography, they have managed to build themselves a continuously growing fanbase, spanning the world. Over the years they have won many awards, including two Grammy awards for ‘The Resistance’ (2009) and ‘Drones’ (2015). Despite their growing success, their albums’ critical response has been on the decline with some fans and professional critics calling ‘The 2nd Law’ the “last of Muse’s greats”.
They originated as a progressive rock band, with a few tracks on ‘Showbiz’ and ‘Origin of Symmetry’ border-lining heavy rock. However, the band has had to shift their style to a collection of more pop-oriented sounds to conform to an ever-changing musical scene, whilst trying to maintain the essence of what made Muse, “Muse” in the first place. A large proportion of fans, as did I, fell in love with the heavily distorted guitars and unconventionally innovative and robust sounds of their original works.
These sounds, which are characteristic of Muse’s early songs are lacking in ‘Simulation Theory’ particularly. Similarly to Arctic Monkeys, Muse is one of those bands you either absolutely love or hate with a passion, making their hardcore fans desperate to love their new albums, which, in my case, was personally a bit challenging. Drawing inspiration from science-fiction and virtual-reality, Muse put a heavy emphasis on synthesizers and electronica, sounds which were preeminent in the 1980’s. Not only are these themes maintained throughout some of the tracks, they are similarly displayed on the album’s cover. Kyle Lambert, who is best known for creating the original poster for Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ series, set in the 80s, was enlisted to design it.
Muse took a massive risk by attempting to blend synth-pop and rock in a bolder way than ever, with mixed success in my opinion. Nevertheless, “Pressure”, “The Dark Side” and “Thought Contagion” are the standout tracks of the album, whereas the others are easily forgettable. However, these other songs still include the classic Muse traits: impeccable musicianship, tasteful guitar licks and Matt Bellamy’s outstanding vocals. ‘Simulation Theory’ also includes a few throwbacks to their previous albums, such as “Get Up and Fight” and “Dig Down”, which are stylistically similar to some songs from ‘The Resistance’, such as “Uprising” and “Unnatural Selection”. Out of the 11 tracks on ‘Simulation Theory’, my personal favourite has to be “Thought Contagion”. I really felt this song’s lyrics in particular resonated with me as I can relate with its message. In Matt Bellamy’s words “It’s about how other people’s false belief systems can infect your own and sometimes even affect your feelings”. All in all, I believe ‘Simulation Theory’ is one the band’s weakest albums to date. It is not a bad album per se, it just does not conform with Muse’s typical “vibe”. However, take this not as a criticism of ‘Simulation Theory’, but rather an appraisal of their previous work.