Simulation Theory, the eighth studio album from Muse, sees them trade in their old Queen albums for a whole new obsession. Less A Night At The Opera, more an evening with Netflix and Prince. The Devon trio, never known for their lack of bombast, have moved away from gigantic guitar riffs and towards an overly-polished 80s-obsessed synth-rock sound. The results are a confused, and confusing, mess of a record.
Like the album artwork, opener ‘Algorithm’ comes on like a cross between the Tron and Stranger Things soundtracks, as swirls of piano augment a heavily electrified beat. It is absolute nonsense but strangely addictive in a manner familiar to anyone stumbling across a late night so-bad-it’s-good 80s movie. With lyrics warning that: “We are caged in simulations”, a theme running through much of this record, there is a sense that Matt Bellamy is someone that you would slowly back away from if he cornered you in a pub to discuss his latest conspiracy theories. ‘The Dark Side’ is a rolling classic Muse track, due mainly to the fact that it sounds like a rolling Queen classic.
Where ‘Pressure’ speaks of life as an artist under pressure to keep rehashing old sounds, ‘Propaganda’ is where the wheels fall off this new sound. It’s genuinely difficult to tell whether the band are taking the proverbial piss here, or whether it is the aftermath of a band and songwriter that nobody says ‘no’ to. Regardless, it is guaranteed to be the soundtrack to your trip to the bar during their upcoming tour. ‘Break It To Me’ follows, and is another strange song based on a Bollywood rhythm and almost deliberately designed to leave fans scratching their heads.
Other questions spring to mind. Why does ‘Something Human’ sound uncannily like Atomic Kitten’s ‘Whole Again’ in parts? Is the start to ‘Get Up And Fight’ taken from Ann Lee’s ‘classic’ 00s Europop sensation ‘Two Times’? In truth, it doesn’t matter. Simulation Theory is a mess of an album. It manages to sound like a hundred ideas have been put into the mix simultaneously, resulting in a muddied lack of identity.
Of course, it doesn’t matter. At this stage of their career as stadium rock behemoths, Muse don’t need a ‘hit’ album, just a handful of tracks to keep the juggernaut rolling. Yet, there are no big singles here, just a few good ideas swamped in effects and overly-stylised production. By the time ‘The Void’ wraps up a nonsensical record, the majority would willingly have thrown themselves into one rather than give it a repeated listen. Is this the real life? No, it’s a horrible fantasy.