Editors Picks

Album Review: Muse – Simulation Theory

Devon’s rock titans struggle to inspire on their sci-fi dominated space-rock adventure.

It’s incredible to think that Teignmouth trio Muse released their debut record almost twenty years ago, but since then, the band have escalated to complete stardom, being hailed as one of Britain’s greatest modern rock bands. Muse aren’t afraid to shy away from creativity having recently delved into electro-rock (The 2nd Law) and hard rock (Drones). Eighth album Simulation Theory sees the trio focusing on 1980’s musical influences and culture, whilst further boosting their incredible reputation.

“‘Algorithm’ infuses sci-fi dramaticism with the trickling of classical piano before a sharp violin”

Having enlisted Kyle Lambert, the LA-based Stranger Things designer, to create the cover for the new record, the direction that the trio wanted to take seemed obvious. The pulsating synth introduction  in the opening track, ‘Algorithm’ infuses sci-fi dramaticism with the trickling of classical piano before a sharp violin line provides the wave in which Matt Bellamy’s cascading vocals enter the fray whilst lyrics “This means war” bellow out with intent, indicating the record’s sci-fi theme.

“The track feels too restrictive and safe, never building to the conclusion you really desire”

Bellamy’s impassioned vocals impress on ‘Something Human’, a tender, down-to-earth single which develops with the help of a gentle acoustic guitar pattern and an ever-present bass drum thump. Swirling extra-terrestrial synths fade in and out of the single, which surprisingly sounds similar to The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’. However, the track feels too restrictive and safe, never building to the conclusion you really desire. On the other hand, ‘The Dark Side’ is a statement of Muse’s ability to produce purposeful arena-rock tracks. A beautiful electro-rock synth pattern bridges sections of the track, whilst a stalking guitar solo counterbalances Bellamy’s vocals which slowly caress the verses before punching holes into the choruses.

“Rock influences are clear within ‘Pressure’, with its classic rock riff and shimmering drum beat”

Muse’s 1980’s rock influences are clear within ‘Pressure’, with its classic rock riff and shimmering drum beat. Whilst lyrically purposeful, the chorus falls flat, ultimately lacking the Muse’s iconic theatrics, despite creating punchy verses containing hints of prog-rock. Album closer ‘The Void’ ends the record as it started, with a slightly Radio-esque dystopian synth arrangement providing the bed for Bellamy’s vocals to lie across.

“Full of pomp and ceremony, Bellamy’s vocals are purposeful”

Whilst Simulation Theory’s dystopian Stranger Things style of sci-fi space rock is clear, there are moments in which Muse look backwards into their back catalogue. ‘Thought Contagion’ could have belonged on previous record Drones with its screeching backing vocals matching Chris Wolstoneholme’s fierce bass groove and Dom Howard’s anthematic drums. Full of pomp and ceremony, Bellamy’s vocals are purposeful and dance between his iconic falsetto and a calmer, yet constantly direct projection.

‘Blackades’ takes you back to Muse circa-2008. A scattering finger-picking riff moves into a delicate pre-chorus lull, allowing Bellamy’s vocals to gently float. Its epic, monstrous chorus contains fierce metal-based influences whilst dramatic vocal insurgencies call out in response to the singer’s desperate screams. ‘Propaganda’ is another album highlight, in which distorted vocals are swiftly brushed aside into a finger-clicking electro-funk masterpiece instantly comparable to Prince’s sexually charged single ‘Kiss’. With a chorus that feels equally preposterous in its beat-heavy distortion, the single as a whole reflects 2012’s electro-pop experimentation The 2nd Law.

“The track has too many jigsaw pieces to it, and most of them don’t fit smoothly together”

Muse’s tendency to look for the preposterous is always applaudable, but on Simulation Theory there are moments that feel flat, or in contrast, feel too forced. ‘Break It To Me’ contains hues of eastern influences but the clunking guitar and drum combination feels like the cast of musical Stomp performing in a scrap heap, whilst the actual guitar sounds off-key and generally awkward. The single isn’t helped either by Matt Bellamy’s vocals, which are oddly reminiscent of Justin Timberlake. With an outro combining classic arcade game Space Invaders and the clunking guitar riff, the track has too many jigsaw pieces to it, and most of them don’t fit smoothly together.

“The politely bouncing verses add nothing to the overall production of the record”

‘Get Up and Fight’ is a stereotypical indie rock track mixed with soaring choruses fraught with desperation and desire. The rousing choruses are vaguely inspiring if a little conventional and the politely bouncing verses add nothing to the overall production of the record. ‘Dig Down’ further disappoints. As a single released before the record came out, you’d expect something of high quality, but the grandiose statement that the band try to produce comes out as overtly static.

Muse’s unique amalgamation of various rock styles makes them impossible not to admire. Their impressive statements across the last nineteen years has made them an integral band in British music, and perhaps one of the only true stadium rock bands. Simulation Theory as a concept is a brilliant idea.

“In constantly striving for something unique and different, they have managed to create an environment in which different is common”

However, the majority of the tracks, whilst interesting, fail to offer anything particularly new. Ironically, in constantly striving for something unique and different, they have managed to create an environment in which different is common. Whilst the band will no doubt enjoy the next few years of promotion for the album, in the form of stadium tours and festival headline slots, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Muse when it comes to recording their ninth record.

6/10

Ben Standring

Featured Image courtesy of Muse Official Facebook Page.

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