2018 EPs/Albums

Muse – Simulation Theory (Review)

One of the most famous trios of all time, Muse released their highly anticipated 8th studio album 2 months ago today. With hitting number 1 in the UK album charts, the album takes Muse towards their electronic influence. With a lot of fans dissing Muse for not sticking to their pioneering stadium rock tunes, this album takes us through an aesthetic, colourful science fiction journey. Cooperating a huge sound for a trio, Dominic Howard (drums), Chris Wolstenholme (bass) and Matt Bellamy (lead vocals/guitar), you can hear influence from Jeff Buckley in Matt’s vocals, which sore us through a nostalgic sound that is “Simulation Theory”.

With the protagonist realising he is in some kind of simulation, he eventually ‘awakens’ and attempts to escape from this false reality. If you’re asking me, “Algorithm” would be perfect for a Black Mirror episode (if you know, you know). Vocals don’t arise until the 1.36 minute mark, by then, we are ready in anticipation for Matt’s warming vocals. The song doesn’t feature many lyrics, in this case, Matt really does stretch out each word to be longer then it actually should be. As for the instrumentation sounding quite game like, the imagery implies that this would be a perfect song to play if there ever was a war between, not necessarily robots, but technology as a whole. It’s a strong opener for Simulation Theory, and has a different approach for Muse (mainly the production), but it still is them down to the tee.

One of the biggest tracks on the album hears the return of similar guitar effects to the Origin of Symmetry era. As for the subject of the track, “The Dark Side” deals with mental illnesses; paranoia and depression. Mental health is probably at it’s most powerful in the world right now, so releasing a track from one of the world’s biggest bands implies that yes, even the most famous people in the world struggle too. The Dark Side deals with a perfect balance of the alternative rock and electronica that Muse desired for. This compliments and details the instruments perfectly… basically, you can hear everything spot on in the mix and the blend of it all works amazingly. 

“Pressure” was released in September as a single. Matt Bellamy explained that this is a heavier song for Muse and talks about the pressure that their fans build to keep playing in their previous styles. Pressure takes us into a sort of “Prince attempting to play with EDM beats over a heavy guitar” kind of sound. As for the orchestral parts, it feels like the band just said “oh, we should have some orchestral arrangements as we haven’t had that yet on the album!”, so in other words; forced. The music video has elements to the Back to the Future franchise, but technically it’s better as Terry Crews is in it… random.

terry crews pca GIF by E!The overall arrangement of the track is definitely more pop orientated and mainstream for my liking, but that’s a personal preference.

Using a vocoder effect on the microphone (similar to The 2nd Law’s ‘Madness’ ) instantly makes this song sound unusual. It sounds like Matt Bellamy is trying to be like Justin Timberlake, aka sleazy and smooth. It just doesn’t work that well in my eyes. “Propaganda” is about manipulation of the truth and lying. It’s a dig at governments and leaders who showcase “fake news”. Well, NOW we know who Matt is aiming this at. It’s the production that draws me into this track more than anything else. Produced by Timbaland, Rich Costey, Angel Lopez, Federico Vindver & Muse themselves, the production is in your face and can’t be ignored. Perfect for Muse.

Beginning with a rhythmical guitar part sounding badly out of tune, it initiates a feeling low kind of mood, or that something bad is going to happen and this is exactly what “Break It to Me” is about. “Break it to” usually means to reveal information that someone doesn’t really want to hear. In Matt’s case, he’s wanting someone to give him bad news, probably to make him stronger as a person. Lyrics Don’t dress it up but don’t beat around the bush, And don’t cover it up but don’t push it underground deals with Matt trying to find out the truth from his partner, friend, anyone (that part’s never really identified). This track has a subtle eastern music influence on it, with the choruses having a memorable indian esque hook line, just a shame that it’s drowned in autotune. The track reminds me of Korn with a pop arrangement – an experimental tune that will definitely grow on you.

The next track takes us more into this era, sadly. It’s modern and fits perfectly in the mainstream charts right now. That’s sad to me because it’s not necessarily “real.” Mainstream music is usually overproduced and doesn’t sound ‘human’. Ironic really, Muse were just looking for a song that was simply “Something Human”… bad joke, i apologise. It’s a shame as the concept of the song deals with going home and seeing loved ones after a long time of touring. The production just implies that when he gets home, machinery will still be everywhere, just like it is when they’re on tour. It’s a tricky one as I think this is what Matt intended to have the production like. There’s no escape from technology, it is simply everywhere we go. Longing for Something Human means connecting with someone else, not your mobile phone. This song is heartbreaking as in a way, we are all trapped by technology. Black Mirror really did warn us…

“Thought Contagion” features vocals influenced by a theremin melody that Matt created. The track describes that in today’s age, ideas that may well be incorrect, will still have a big power over what you do. Basically, leaders of the government have these bad ideas and they have great power over you, but what can you really do about it? I guess write a song in Matt’s case. The sleazy bass line takes us from the beginning, straight to the end. It’s the glue that holds all the pieces together. Towards the end of the track, Matt plays a synth-like guitar solo which you can just hear would blow a whole stadium away. Even though, it’s primarily electronic, Muse definitely made this rock, leading back to their old alternative rock approach to their music. I’m sure some of the old fans like this song, as it really is another stand out, stadium track. 

Beginning with a vocal phrase that reminds me of something that Dua Lipa or Ariana Grande would have in their songs, it definitely wasn’t something that I was expecting from a Muse track. I don’t know how to react.Get Up and Fight” is simply put as a pop ballad. It’s cheesy and is something that you probably would hear in the Eurovision song contest. It’s a protest song to an extent, as it’s about reaching goals and telling people to simply get up and fight for what they believe in. It’s a bit too trashy for my liking and not something that I’d listen to again. The backing vocals from Tove Lo makes it somewhat more cope able. 

It seems that Matt Bellamy has a preferred vocal phrasing that he does. That has it’s pros and cons, cons being that it gets repetitive and pros being that he can simply be identified. I’d love to hear him sing a bit more out of his comfort zone because we’ve been hearing near enough the same vocals all the way through the album. “Blockades” is another example. Saying all that, as you get older, your voice matures, this could be the exact reason why Matt’s voice is usually situated in his preferred vocal phrasing. The flying arpeggios in Blockades are assertive and can’t be missed. This is the Muse that I love. Floating in synthesisers and 8 bit goodness, Blockades is FFO: New Order, OMD, Yes.

Starting with an effect that reminds me of The 2nd Law’s production on Madness (again), “Dig Down” is about hope and being optimistic. The message portrayed is strong and was lacking slightly in the album. The instrumentation isn’t that exciting and isn’t memorable. With elements of a gospel/blues arrangement, it’s still pop orientated. It really feels with this album that Muse changed the way they thought and decided to create more mainstream music, maybe to please more people OR they simply had a different approach to their music that they were hearing. 

The last track on the standard edition is “The Void”. Matt exclaims in this track that the power is in our hands and no one else’s. Not in the government’s power, it’s in OUR power to change, to become a better world. It’s great that Matt has these views and stands up for what he believes in, but it’s never really indicated what exactly he is fighting for or what we need to change to become a better world. With an element of Stranger Things (even the artwork for the album was designed by Stranger Things artist Kyle Lambert), Muse have transported us back to the 1980’s with some good songs. The message that they are signalling is that we keep moving forward as a world. In that case, why are they making it sound like the 80’s again? It’s a revival, a comfort as such, to a time when things were simpler and we will get there again.

Favourite Tracks: Algorithm, The Dark Side, Propaganda, Break it to Me, Thought Contagion, Blockades

Score: 7/10

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