Muse “Simulation Theory” Album Review
When picturing the apocalypse, I could have never fathomed that it would have started with Muse getting their hands on synth equipment, but here we are. The end is nigh, but not in the way that Muse would have us believe. Satan has come unto us in his most hideous form.
That said, if Satan is kicking off the apocalypse with Muse’s eighth studio album then he is making a rather dull fuss about the whole affair. Muse albums have been many things in the past: bonkers, preachy, inconsistent and, as hard as it sometimes is to believe, good. But never have they been boring. On their eighth try they have finally done it: they have finally made a boring album. Wonder where they will go next.
It is not all bad. “Pressure” is kind of groovy and has wormed its way into my ear as of late, and “Propaganda” is so unpredictable that it goes from sleezy love song to western soundtrack in less than a second at one point. “Blockades” and “Thought Contagion” are okay too, but nothing more than just okay. Unsurprisingly, three out of four of those songs do not rely on much synth at all, and “Blockades” uses the synth as garnish that creates nostalgia for an early Muse song “Bliss”. The song’s strength lies in that it uses guitar riffs to drive the song forward, as opposed to poor use of synthonics.
Unfortunately, those are the largest compliments I can pay the album. Simulation Theory’s largest issue is that it is following the tail-end of the 1980s nostalgia trend, and so the listener is left with an album that has very few fresh ideas to offer. Although it had the most generic anti-war message stapled to it, at least Muse’s previous album, Drones, featured an entire self-contained story across the entire album through its songs (even if all of them were not fantastic). It has been done before, but it is uncommon enough among albums to be considered interesting to some degree. More albums should take note, and improve upon Muse’s attempt. Yet, by attempting to return to the past with Simulation Theory instead of paving the way forward, Muse have unintentionally created a horrible parody of 1980s music. It is as if the band and its producers have failed to understand that placing synth over guitar riffs and dull drum beats does not constitute as pastiche being paid to the 1980s. Instead of merging modern rock and the 1980s together, Muse have created a monstrosity that is timeless, but only because it does not fit welcomely into any time period. If that makes Simulation Theory music of the future, then please spike my next drink with battery acid.
Yet, I imagine that most of the songs will sound bombastic and epic on Muse’s next stadium tour. They have always had a flair for the cinematic, and album opener “Algorithm”, for all its shortcomings, is certainly cinematic. The song itself is possibly the largest tragedy of the album. It may be synth heavy, but it is effective in creating an epic anticipation for what is to come. Lyrics such as ‘this means war with your creator’ are not inventive, but they are exciting. It feels like something epic is coming. Unfortunately the musical emptiness of “Algorithm” is simply a warning of what will ensue over the majority of the rest of the album. Only “Get Up and Fight” delivers on the opener’s promise of a loud fight with unknown oppressors, yet the song only serves as an example of the band’s use of oppression to create appeal. Band members Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard rarely make public acts of resistance against any form of oppression, and with this knowledge the song feels like a lie. It also sucks.
Yet, somehow the album stoops lower with “Break it to Me”, which might have won the award for being Muse’s most forgettable song (and possibly their worst). The band even move from the territory of synthwave here into borderline EDM, as if they had grown as bored with their use of synth as their audience had. Yet, the EDM breakdown (if you can even call it that) might just make your ears bleed. It makes your crave the return of the awful synthonics. The rest of the tracks are simply boring. You can sleep through “Something Human” and “Dig Down”, which attempt to add a touch of humanity to the soulless nature of Simulation Theory but ultimately leave you thinking about when you will never be free to bleach your toilet. “The Dark Side” and “The Void” fall somewhere in the middle in terms of quality, but are equally as forgettable as the lesser songs on the album.
Simply put, there is no catch to the album. There is very little excitement or flair, and where there is it comes nowhere near close to Muse’s better work. I cannot reiterate how dull this album is. The use of instruments is uninspired, and Bellamy continues the trend of increasing the amount of moaning he makes on each album instead of singing. Not even his exceptional voice stands out here. Very little does. The album makes very little sense thematically, also. I spent a year writing about simulation theory and this album has nothing to do with simulations. It feels empty, cheap and, instead of critiquing nostalgia for the 1980s and the simulations created by it, it leaves the audience nostalgic of Muse’s past, better efforts.
Oh, and the lyrics are wank too.