Warner Brothers (Helium-3)
One of England’s most relevant rock bands of our time, Simulation Theory displays Muse’s constant evolution with every album. Here we see their eighth album diving into the ‘80s, with pop culture references, synthesizers, and an excessive (more than usual) flair of glam. A very brave attempt, Muse experiments with mainstream producers (Timbaland, Shellback), heavy electronic and hip-hop styles, with certain influences standing out like a deer in headlights.
My favorite band of all time, Muse really almost let me down with this album. I say almost because the effort in this album and the fact that some songs still manage to be catchy to the general ear, didn’t devastate me. However, this album gave me so many weird questions. A small disclaimer, I will be focusing on the normal album, no deluxe/super deluxe versions will be talked about - although I will briefly touch upon those at the end.
Starting with the first song, “Algorithm”, there’s one thing Muse always has: amazing openers on an album. “Algorithm” is such a buildup of a track, that the short lyrics are covered by the instrumentation.
2) The Dark Side
5) Break It To Me
6) Something Human
7) Thought Contagion
8) Get Up And Fight
10) Dig Down
11) The Void
It gets you so hype and ready for this album. There’s no other way to describe it than to listen to it yourself! With the
second song and fourth single, “The Dark Side”, I knew Muse wasn’t going to disappoint me entirely. It retains their musical structures and their familiarity, yet still expanding within their
electronic influences. Lyrically, the chorus is a bit weak, repeating phrases of themes that Muse is well-known for. Cutting into “Pressure”, the third song and (surprisingly) the last single, we
get some horns, a nice guitar riff, and a groovy rhythm that reminds me of The 2nd Law or as other fans pointed out, like “Supermassive Black Hole” off Black Holes and Revelations. After the two
previous tracks, the way this song appears feels off, and it would feel more comfortable for the later part of the album. The chorus, again, feels weak like “The Dark Side”. The backing vocals by
bassist Chris Wolstenholme make me cringe a bit, yet of course I end up singing along. Barging in with the highly distorted word “propaganda”, the fourth track “Propaganda” immediately throws one
off-guard. Once the song settles, you get guitarist Matt Bellamy showing his Prince influence on his sleeve. Something starts to feel off from here on forward and at later parts of this release.
In all previous Muse songs/albums/releases, their original music and lyrics were always done by the band, and “Propaganda” marks their first song co-written by non-members. Timbaland, Angel
Lopez, and Federico Vindver all helped Bellamy write this song, which is why I felt something wrong. Bellamy alludes to Harry Potter in the second verse, although it is a mistaken reference
(confusing Death Eaters for Dementors). It’s a decent song, which is why I wasn’t going to mull over this much. “Break It To Me” is the fifth track, with this weird guitar chord played over and
over, then evolves into this Middle Eastern aesthetic mixed with guitar and distorted electronic bass. I’m used to weird music in general, so this wasn’t much of a surprise, but for Muse? In
terms of experimenting, this is actually a nice song that they managed to make, with some Tom Morello influences towards the end.
As we reach the midway point of Simulation Theory, I become highly disappointed with the sixth song and third single “Something Human”. Boy, did I feel so confused. The song deals with Bellamy’s feelings of being burnt out during the Drones tour. When Bellamy first debuted the song as an acoustic version live on Instagram, I was alright with it. It’s a beautiful, simple song, that expresses the desire for humanity… yet the song album-wise is the direct opposite of that. It still retains the aesthetics of the album, which is already causing friction, while making it sound like something off a Top 40 Billboard list. I understand the direction Muse took, and this IS a pretty song, but the way they portrayed it on the album is horrible in my opinion. The acoustic version is way better and should have been included instead of on the deluxe versions (even then it still needs to sound more “human” ). The seventh song, and second single, “Thought Contagion” was intended to just be singles (along with “Something Human” and “Dig Down”), but were included on the album. The way Muse recorded this album was by focusing on one track at a time, and yet how the band manages to retain the same aesthetics throughout the album is amazing. I like “Thought Contagion” now, but thought it was weak when I first heard it. The verses especially had me surprised, wondering why Muse incorporated a trap-inspired drumming pattern that’s emulating the Roland TR-808. I was immediately thinking the worst, that “Muse sold out” and “they’re trying too hard to be mainstream”. However, thinking it over, it’s an alright song minus how it repeats just a little bit too much. Yet these extreme thoughts came back for the eighth song “Get Up And Fight”. I honestly thought it was an advertisement with pop music, as I was listening to this for the first time. Besides “Something Human”, it’s my most disliked track off Simulation Theory. What also explains this is Shellback co-writing the song with Bellamy, and lyrics are just poor compared to Muse’s discography. They have written better and they know it. Composition wise, the song is decent at best. The chorus is what saves the song, and the vocals by Tove Lo don’t really help with the song. She has a nice voice and all, but this song sounds like a discount version of Fall Out Boy. When“Blockades”, the ninth song, started, it gave a nostalgic feel with elements coming from their older songs like “Bliss”, “Map Of The Problematique”, and “Butterflies and Hurricanes”. It’s a good throwback to keep the older fans I guess. However, there’s a problem that pops up around the album and in this song that’ll I address in the conclusion of this review. The first single and tenth song of this album, “Dig Down” may seem like a tribute or even a rip-off to the late George Michael, and this song reminded me heavily of “Madness” from The 2nd Law. I have nothing to say about this one really, it’s very decent. The eleventh and last song is “The Void”, which starts off very weird with their choice of synthesizers, and grows in another nostalgic slap in the face. This song really reminds me of “Hyper Chondriac Music” from their compilation album Hullabaloo Soundtrack. Once more, the chorus lyrically is weak, yet musically it’s what give me the familiarity to their older music. Building electronically, it becomes catchier for the second half. The song becomes better in a sense, and includes more piano like in the beginning of the album with “Algorithm”. It’s a really good closing song, and I appreciate that the album wasn’t a total trainwreck.
Usually anything that Muse releases, I’m always 99% happy. I understand their direction either immediately or after a few listens. Simulation Theory took a lot more listens and repeats to be able to get to that position. That, coupled with multiple interviews explaining their new album, and I was starting to see their point of view. Simulation Theory is Muse at their most experimental so far, beating The 2nd Law. That alone with the fact that they took mainstream musical styles and incorporated into their sound was a feat in of itself. However, this album lacked SOMETHING. Whether if it was Muse actively trying to stay relevant or experiment really hard, Muse is missing something on this album. What also bothers me, is the repeated use of certain chord structures that’s in Muse discography. It felt like lazy songwriting as this structure is used immensely in this album. The structure in question comes up in the songs “The Dark Side”, “Pressure” (second half of the choruses), “Thought Contagion”, “Blockades”, and “The Void”. This paired with how the different production mix makes it hard to decipher Matt’s voice at some parts, makes the album so hard to digest at a first listen and as an avid Muse fan. The alternate song versions and remixes off the deluxe/super deluxe versions of the albums are so better than the standard, I don’t know why they didn’t switch them out!! If I may also point out that, what a disgrace to have poor Dom the drummer not give us some nice memorable drum parts! I don’t wanna say that Dominic hasn’t been shredding on the skins in recent years, as he does kick butt live… but on the last three records, Dominic is taking the back seat more and more it feels. Drones, being a concept album (and the band’s first), gets a pass from me but I barely hear Dominic’s touch. You can make it out on “Pressure” and a few other tracks, but I missed his drumming on this album. The music videos for the singles give another experience, as if it was a movie in small parts. That’s where I felt Simulation Theory fell into: a soundtrack for an ok movie. I genuinely liked every album completely and every song of theirs with the exception of Simulation Theory.
I only liked less than half the album and it doesn’t really stand well with all their older material. I give this album a 5.9 out of 10. I would have gave it a 6 but it would have been too generous. I feel Muse as a rock band are really trying to push boundaries, but they missed the mark with this album. Let’s wait and see for their next attempt!
For more info on the band:
Matt Bellamy - Lead vocals, guitars, keyboards
Chris Wolstenholme - Bass guitar, backing vocals
Dominic Howard - Drums