Warner Brothers Records · November 9, 2018
As someone who grew up on Muse, this album was a bit of a disappointment.
Over the years, Muse has strayed further and further from their original sound with each new release. Their eighth album, Simulation Theory, continues this trend as they introduce more of the electronic elements they had been playing around with in their past few albums. Unlike its predecessors, however, Simulation Theory is a bit of a musical Frankenstein’s monster: around half the time, its hybridization of the heavy riffs the band is known for and their experimental electronic elements combine to make something vaguely enjoyable, but the rest of the time, the two are poorly combined.
The more pleasant version of this combination occurs in songs like ‘Pressure’ and ‘The Dark Side’. These two sounded like they could’ve been on some of the band’s earlier albums upon first listen. The sad part is that that’s what made me like these songs so much and what made them stand out from the rest of the album. There’s an almost pitiful irony in this, however, particularly with the song ‘Pressure’, which is apparently meant to be about how frontman Matt Bellamy feels pressure from fans to keep making songs in the style of their older music. Bellamy described ‘Pressure’ as a “more straight Muse rock track” with “a different riff every ten seconds”, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint on this front.
Songs where this hybridization falls flat include ‘Break it to Me’, which includes autotune of all things (which is enough to damn the song completely all on its own), and
‘Thought Contagion’, which sounds like the sort of song that’d be played over the end credits of a mediocre YA dystopian movie, especially with some of the lyrics: “You’ve been bitten by a true believer”, and “They’ll never do what you want them to/Give it up and watch them break through”, among others. Even the name “Thought Contagion” should be clue enough to the sort of campy speak of revolution that the song contains. Then, there’s ‘Something Human’, which sounds like it’d better fit a 20-year-old blonde pop star than a 40-year-old rocker like Bellamy. The song itself isn’t all that bad, but it certainly doesn’t suit Muse as a band, even with their known history of experimenting.
As someone who grew up on Muse, this album was a bit of a disappointment. Trust me, I’m not disappointed that the band’s sound is changing – I’m all for experimentation and trying new things! That’s part of what I believe makes the band so great – they’ve grown immensely since their founding and haven’t stagnated despite releasing their first album in 1999. It’s not the experimentation that disappointed, it was the execution – I had faith that Muse would be able to pull this type of album off a lot better than they did. One thing’s for certain: Muse will continue to play around with genre and push the limits of their music well into the future – I just hope they do it better next time.