Muse has returned emphatically with their 8th studio album, Simulation Theory. When you are one of the biggest rock bands in the world it is sometimes difficult to think where to go next. Muse decided to alter their sound, release an album with 3 different versions, and record music videos for each individual song. So, while stardom can lead to a certain level of comfortability, Muse is certainly not running on cruise control.
The album opens strongly with “Algorithm”, which sets the scene for the futuristic world this album exists in. The opening instrumental gives off strong Stranger Things vibes, possibly a sources of inspiration as their album cover was done by Kyle Lambert (who does artwork for the show). “The Dark Side” is the emotional catalyst of the album. Matt Bellamy floats seamlessly from power chorus to falsetto while begging the people controlling the simulation to “Break me out / Break me out / Let me flee”. “Pressure” has an infectious guitar riff that will be stuck in your head forever and is an outstanding tight piece of modern rock.
The standout and biggest surprise of the album is “Propaganda” On paper, a song driven mostly by a drum machine and a hip-hop inspired beat would likely cause concerns for most rocks fans. However, the use here is to a phenomenal effect. The repeated vocal sample in the chorus is downright grimy which serves as a stark contrast against the stripped back verses and acoustic guitar bridge. It is a song with many components that shouldn’t make a good rock song that instead churned out an amazing rock song.
The album progresses, running through previously released singles, including the arena sing-along hit, “Thought Contagion”. “Get Up and Fight” is a motivational song that seems destined to be in a movie soundtrack, for good reasons. The album feels more dystopian is it nears an end with tracks like “Blockades”, which is reminiscent of the classic Muse guitar-driven orchestral music that brought them to fame in the early 2000’s.
And now for a quick assessment of the 10 extra songs included in the Super Deluxe version of the album. I was not necessarily drawn to any of the alternate reality versions of songs, however the version of The Dark Side made the lyrics stand out in an even more haunting way. “Pressure (feat. UCLA Bruin Marching Band)” is hard to listen to without smiling from ear to ear. It’s a fun twist to hear the guitars replaced with a brass section and the drumline takes it to another level. “Something Human (Acoustic Version)” is beautiful and superior to the album version. Likewise, “Dig Down (Acoustic Gospel Version) gives the song a feeling of soul that is sadly missing in the album version.
Overall, Muse struck gold. In the modern age of music it is hard to do anything in rock outside of your standard guitars, bass, and drums without coming off as sellouts to a certain audience. On Simulation Theory Muse managed to dabble in many current musical trends (sampling, drum machines, looped beats) but in a way that had true purpose and brought value to good pop rock. Combining these ideas with their orchestral arrangements and a mix of 80’s synth rock, Muse compiled an album that is consistent in theme and sound. The guys from England prove once again why they are so popular, on one of their best albums released to date.
Stream the new album below: