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Muse - Simulation Theory (Album Review)

Tuesday, 20 November 2018 Written by Helen Payne

Photo: Jeff Forney

‘Simulation Theory’ is confusing. Why is such an objectively bad album so enjoyable?

The tale of the tape for Muse’s eighth LP is that it’s a mash-up of genres delivered with a crushing sense of overkill on the production side of things. Die-hard fans of the band’s early work will go into it with truly dreadful expectations—after all, they haven’t released a good album in years.

And it would initially appear that their fears are well founded. Get Up and Fight is tropical house spliced with an ‘80s power ballad, while Something Human tries its best to muscle in on the country-ish EDM of Avicii’s Wake Me Up. At best you could say it’s a bit weird.

But this isn’t headline news. Genre-crunching is nothing new for the Devon trio, who have leaned into synth-pop as well as the hyperreality of orchestral rock throughout their prolific career.

What is new and notable is the manner in which they’ve designed ‘Simulation Theory’ to be all things to all people. It appears as though, after years spent railing against the man, they’ve given in and crafted hypnotic algorithms designed to brainwash millions of listeners into enjoying themselves. For all its faults, it’s scarily entertaining.

Multiple listens to The Dark Side reveal hidden traces of the early, guitar-focused Muse that had been thought lost to time, and Break It To Me even conjures up images of a wonky take on Rage Against the Machine’s classic Bulls On Parade. After you put aside the aggressive military stomps on Propaganda, its funky verse renders an unexpected Prince vibe. We are forced to re-evaluate.

There is a shift in lyrical focus at work here, too. From 2009’s ‘The Resistance’, to the government-conspiracy-driven ‘The 2nd Law’ and the hopeless dystopian indoctrination of 2015’s ‘Drones’, Muse have long fired shots at targets across the political landscape. But how does a rock band begin to write a political album in 2018? Any number of world events from the past 12 months could have sparked something—it’d almost be too easy.

So, for the most part, Muse shy away from that world on ‘Simulation Theory’, preferring instead to revel in nostalgia for the 1980s. It’s as though they have decided to enjoy themselves for a change, rather than sending out more warning signals that we’re all lacking humanity (although they can’t resist giving that a nudge for good measure on Something Human).

Take the artwork, for example. Created by Kyle Lambert, whose work you might recognise from Stranger Things’ accompanying poster, it’s plastered with neon contrast lettering, spaceships, hypercars and dramatic busts of Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard—complete with obligatory robotic arms and VR-style sunglasses. The image alone says plenty about what to expect from Muse here, namely the bright lights of ‘80s sci-fi and the accompanying barrage of synths.

So, all in all, why is this objectively bad album so enjoyable? It’s because it tries so hard. ‘Simulation Theory’ is a collection defined by out-there synth-rock tracks, aggressively bland pop songs, the odd soaring Bellamy vocal, a handful of alternate reality versions and even a club remix. Its calculated desperation to be as accessible to as many groups as possible delivers fleeting highs while ensuring Muse’s latest attempt to take over the world falls flat. All those simulations can’t mask a rotten core.

Muse Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon December 03 2018 - LONDON Royal Albert Hall
Sat June 01 2019 - LONDON Stadium Olympic Park
Sat June 08 2019 - MANCHESTER Manchester Etihad Stadium

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