In February Matt Bellamy, frontman of Muse and all round rock God, did an interview with the BBC which ominously proclaimed: “The Guitar is no longer a lead instrument”. I say ominously because up until this point Muse has, apart from that weird foray into dub-step in 2nd Law that I like to pretend didn’t happen, unequivocally been a ‘lead guitar’ band and has been excellent at it. So, understandable, I went into listening to Simulation theory with some trepidation.
From start to finish Simulation Theory embraces synths, 808 drum machines and distorted background vocals. To be fair this often works pretty well; algorithm and The Void make use of some wonderfully foreboding synth textures; arpeggiated synths work well in Darkside and Blockades; and Get Up and Fight offers some brilliant looped background vocals. However, some of the time it doesn’t work. Propaganda is rendered almost unlistenable by grating distorted vocals that overpower what would have been some pretty nice background rhythms that combine guitars with synths and drum machines, the acoustic version of Something Human is actually better than the normal and Dig Down is reminiscent of Madness but not half as good, not least because it is without the excellent guitar solo.
This is not to say that the Guitar that have become almost synonymous with Muse are gone entirely and where it is there it is still up to Muse standard. Pressure offers neat lead guitar riffs and tis “pressure building” lyrics is reminiscent of Super Massive Black Hole; Dark Side offers a guitar solo that sounds oddly like Queen’s I Want to Break Free – trust me you won’t be able to un-hear the similarity; the acoustic guitar really makes Something Human by giving a warmer feel and Thought Contagion, which is Muse at their bombastic best, has a brilliant bassy riff as a background rhythm. All in all, Sonically Simulation Theory has a pretty good stab at updating Muse’s sound whilst still keeping the unique over the top sound that has made Muse so popular. However, the quite frankly ridiculous, quality of Muse’s back catalogue means this is not quite up to their standard – it’s a good album but it’s only an alright Muse Album.
What get with Muse’s ‘updated’ sound is, ironically enough, a retro 1980s si-fi vibe. Imagine if Muse did Bladerunner – I mean Just look at the album cover or any of the music videos. This vibe fits in pretty well with the lyrics too. Ideas of fake news and propaganda linked to technology are heavily featured – Propaganda approaches this with the subtlety of a sledge hammer: “You Keep telling pretty lies/You Toy with the Truth” and “your killing me with your propaganda”. Elsewhere, in The Dark Side deals with mental health, Pressure deals with the pressure from fans and Get Up and Fight, as well as Dig Down strike an optimistic tone of defiance. This is all part of a wider concept in which Simulation Theory offers a glimpse into an apocalyptic world of illusions, broken simulations and thought contagions. Here Muse’s sense of, knowingly ridiculous, melodrama shine’s though with Bellamy Operatically delivering lines such as “This means war with your creator”, “Brace for the final solution” and “They’ll say the sun is dying”. The idea of an apocalyptic world is expanded on in the Music videos that defy description and are honestly better than the album itself – they could easily be spun out into a film that I would willing watch.
Ultimately, Simulation Theory is pretty good, however, knowing what Muse can produce, ‘pretty good’ is a bit underwhelming.