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REVIEW: Muse – ‘Simulation Theory’ (Warner)


In a sentence:

When you think that ‘Simulation Theory’ is the work of the same band that once did ‘Origin Of Symmetry’, you realise how depressingly cynical Muse have become.

Is anyone genuinely excited for a new Muse album anymore? The band, more than twenty years into their career, are still headlining festivals and selling out arenas, so I guess the answer is affirmative. Matt Bellamy and Co., to their credit, have a talent for mixing influences, often more critically acclaimed than them, into something surprisingly marketable. And despite how that sentence might come across, I mean that in the best way. Through their discography, the alt rock/prog rock/space rock band have earned comparisons to Queen in their grandeur, Radiohead in their “experimentation”, Depeche Mode in their penchant for the occasional foot-stomp synth incorporation… the list goes on.

Yet they were always able to do it in a way that’s notably easy to get into, by way of catchy riffs and, particularly with their singles, fairly simplistic and Coldplay-like song structures. There’s a particular art to that kind of thing. But in recent years it’s seemed that Muse have become more of a meme than a genuine modern rock band that people, the critical community in particular, take seriously. A lot of it has to do with the band’s particular formula becoming increasingly more predictable with the unforgiving passage of time, to the extent that even when they try to do something new, they tend to do it in a way that’s so expected, so Muse-esque, that you can’t help but roll your eyes, like we all did last time out with 2015’s Drones. Here’s a brief list of things, for the uninitiated, of what one might expect from a new Muse release in 2018:

Distortion. Matt Bellamy’s increasingly vague “us vs. them” narratives that try to pass themselves off as genuine social commentary. The idea that a band, who made their career on arena rock, incorporating synthesizers is somehow rebellious and interesting, even in 2018, even after five albums of non-modest synth usage already. More distortion. “I found a crusty Beethoven vinyl in my attic and have read a sci-fi book exactly once” string sections. Bellamy trying to emulate Thom Yorke’s vocal inflections to sing about the evil government, assumedly ruled by Dr Robotnik and his league of evil minions, who are trying to murder all the polar bears. Even more shameless distortion. Beats to stomp along to. Stomp hard. Stomp like you’re trying to break free from the machine that is this capitalist society we’re forced to live in, the one that lets Muse make a living off of tour shows so extravagant you could feed a refugee camp for a month from the budget.

READ MORE: Muse // ‘Absolution’ at 10 years old

In all honesty, I’m really not the one to judge any kind of pretention or grandiose ambitions. I will defend someone’s right to write an opera-like, five-part octet, full of Jesus metaphors and Shakespeare references, about how an iPhone app is fucking all of us over, if they want to do so. Ambition and the wish to do something outside of the bare minimum of what’s expected of you shouldn’t have immediate negative connotations. I was one of the people who genuinely enjoyed it when Muse released a three-part ‘Exogenesis’ symphony on The Resistance, because I thought it was worthy of praise that a rock band would even try and do that at any point past the late ‘80s, when unabashed sincerity seemingly died and was replaced by its evil twin of constant irony, self-awareness, and apathy. I was even kind of still there for it when they incorporated a full-blown choir of dramatized Gregorian chants on ‘Survival’. Because why not? Who else, other than Muse, has the sheer disregard for coming across as ridiculous to do that. And yet, I shuddered at the announcement of Simulation Theory.

Before even listening to the first single, one can’t help but gawk at the aesthetic catastrophe that is the album’s front cover. You can understand that it’s inspired by ‘80s sci-fi movie posters. That it’s self-aware of the Tron/Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift/Blade Runner/Vaporwave pastiche it’s presenting. And it still doesn’t make it any less horrific to look at. Like a Frankenstein’s monster of cultural theft that shouldn’t exist, and yet it’s right there, before your eyes, and no amount of the power of Christ can compel it away.

Honestly, it makes you immediately question the seriousness of Simulation Theory as a whole. Surely, Bellamy couldn’t have looked at the pout-face making, neon-shade wearing version of himself on the cover next to the neon-glow Japanese writing and the Lamborghini and said “Yeah. This is gonna change the world.” And yet it is what it is. An album so weirdly wrapped up in its own self-importance and camp that it’s genuinely impossible to tell if this was meant to be a joke or not. And even more difficult to tell if I’m supposed to review it from the perspective of Muse bravely taking a shit on everyone’s expectations and any sense of artistic progress, or if I’m meant to actually be constructing any valid and well-argued opinions on this.

So anyway, here are the genuine notes I made on my first listen-through of the album. Because if Muse can throw something together so haphazardly, why can’t I?

‘Algorithm’ – Hello? Early Nine Inch Nails? Is that you? Didn’t take long for those Depeche Mode-inspired synthesizers to come in. Or the one-two beat. You can hear the packed arena of the beat-down rock fans clapping along to this already. Oooh, string section, didn’t see that coming. Nice one, Bellamy. Hope you paid the studio musicians what they deserve. Oh dear lord the first line is “Burn like a slave / Churn like a cog”. It’s almost calming to know that in this constantly evolving and changing at a pace we can’t even keep up with society, the one constant is that Bellamy’s surface-level insights into the modern human condition will always stay the same.

‘The Dark Side’ – This is just the last song again but with an added 20 bpms. “Set me free” – goes Bellamy to the one-two beat pattern. And “Quack” goes the duck. That’s right, The Stomp will set you free. The Stomp will free us all. All hail The Stomp.

‘Pressure’ – Umm… Is that an actual distorted brass section? The memes generate themselves. Please tell me Michael Bublé has a feature on this track singing about the superficiality of Hollywood? Oh wait, no, there’s a distorted guitar instead. Oh well. One can dream.

‘Propoganda’ – …he rhymes “floozy” with “woozy” and I have no words for that. Honestly, this sounds like a Lonely Island parody of Muse, there’s no way to even ironically indulge in this.

‘Break It To Me’ – And this one sounds like a Jason Derulo cover, but with an alternate universe in which the soundtrack for ‘The X-Files’ was a heavy rock one and had this as its end theme twist to it. As I’m writing this, I realise that sounds way better than what it actually is. Honestly though if no one makes a mash up of this and ‘Talk Dirty To Me’ what was the internet even invented for. The drum machine/synthesizer (was Dominic Howard even present for the recording of this album?) having a little, in-beat, freak-out towards the end and the guitar bends being in perceptible dissonance is what I think passed for experimentation to tick that particular checkbox in the studio.

‘Something Human’ – There is no way anyone wrote this song in genuine seriousness. It’s a Mumford & Sons/Coldplay rip-off. Ironically, considering the title, I can’t even perceive anything other than a Spotify algorithm writing this song.

‘Thought Contagion’ – I’m getting tired. What even is the point? Is any of this real? Maybe making me feel like I’m in a drug-induced fever dream from all the coke I bought with all the Bitcoins I own is the point, and Simulation Theory is actually amazing. It succeeds in its goals in flying, eye-grating, depressingly derivative, neon colours. What if, by even thinking about it, I missed the point, and our shade-wearing, pout-face making hero is there laughing at me from behind his mixing desk that’s worth more than my university degree?

‘Get Up And Fight’ – Insulting. There’s a band that’s like a “punk” version of one direction, i.e., the aesthetic and the fashion marketed at tweens on Tumblr, without any of the actual political statements associated with the movement, otherwise the parents of the tweens might complain. Or maybe I’m making all of this up at this point, who knows. Either way, the chorus of this song sounds exactly like what that band would write. Thanks, I hate it.

‘Blockades’ – I’m sad.

‘Dig Down’ – At this point, I’m certain they ran out of new material for the album and used a B-side from The 2nd Law. Fight me.

‘The Void’ – This was not worth it.

Oh God, there are even “Alternate Reality” versions of a few songs on the “Super Deluxe” edition. Please, give me the strength to pull through this. I just realised that there’s a Marching Band version of ‘Pressure’ on the album and my Michael Bublé comment just became way more poignant. Is ‘Glee’ still running? Can they cover this?

There are times in your life when you have thoughts that seem to lead up to a conclusion, yet there’s no actual profound conclusion to be made. What is there to say about Simulation Theory, an album that doesn’t seem to lend itself to the assumption that anything about it is meant to be taken seriously? Ha ha, good joke, Muse. That sure made me less sad about the 21st century. I would hope that this album is actually part of a simulated reality which was built for me to practice being snarky in writing form, but it’s real, and out there, and people spent time and energy on it. Some poor graduate students working in PR probably genuinely had to market this and talk about it. Someone had to film the music videos for this. Someone had to coordinate press-releases for this. I hope they made up fake names for the credits, took the money, and moved to Shanghai. (2/10) (Ellie Wolf)

Listen to Simulation Theory by Muse here via Spotify – if you dare – and tell us what you think below!

11 Discussions on
“REVIEW: Muse – ‘Simulation Theory’ (Warner)”
  • Oh Ellie, i genuinely feel sorry for you. You going through some hard times at Uni? Did you wet the bed last night? You clearly have no idea what you’re talking about when it comes to Music. Just because you reference Muse albums of old that were probably out before you were even a teenager (please move on), and you study Music doesn’t mean you do know what you’re talking about. The musicality and arrangement of this album is genius, it’s a fun album and will be astounding live on tour. The only thing that was accurate about your ‘review’ was that it was 80’s inspired, well done for working that out. I can tell by your negativity towards the new album, which stands out from all the dross of the music industry today, you’re never likely to be the life and sole at parties….

    2/10 is simply laughable and I can only wish you the best in your search for new music that makes you happy (I hear Olly Murs has a new album, give that one a go)

  • I lost interest in your opinion the moment you compared Matt Bellamy to Thom Yorke. That meme died out about 15 years ago and had next to no substance to begin with. It’s usually only used by Radiohead fans who hate Muse for being Muse. I love both bands and they are far from similar, especially in 2018.

    Probably the worst review of the album (alongside Pitchfork’s review) I’ve seen and not because of the score, but more the lack of serious analysis of the tracks and the critiques being lazy comparisons with no substance.

    Personally thought this was Muse’s best entry since The Resistance, maybe even Black Holes and Revelations. Yes there are some poor tracks in the mid section, but the majority of the album is good and some tracks such as Algorithm, The Dark Side, Blockades and The Void are fantastic. Would give it a 6.5/10.

    You say your a fan of things that are pretentious, which is exactly how I would describe your review, so congratulations!

  • Are you angry Man? May be you are unhappy? Honnestly, you didn’t listen To the album, it’s not possible. Yeah, true, get UP and fight IS crappy. And what? The void and algorithm are brillant. Thé Dark side IS the perfect mix of rock and electro. Yes true, Propaganda chorus IS weird but it’s grows in you and then this song rocks. So does break it To me. Blockades IS very good. Thought Contagion IS classic Muse and very good. Dig down and pressure are not Bad, and so better than everything at the radio. Something human coule bé so much better. It’s not a Big deal. I am an old Muse fan and i love all their album. This one desserves To be considerated as a visionnary album. Of course, you are not ready for that. Poor you.

  • I wouldn’t show your lecturers this lousy and truly disgusting attempt at an “album review” – it isn’t your finest of work. Infact, anyone who has listened to Simulation Theory and then reads what you’ve wrote here will know you’re just talking bullshit. Maybe you should consider dropping the music degree, it’s genuinely that laughable. I made a bloody account for this review, that’s how annoyed I am at you for making up this crap. I give your review a whopping 0/10.

  • Can you at least give actual criticism to Blockades and The Void? Like it’s fine if you don’t like these songs but “I’m sad” and “This wasn’t worth it” don’t mean shit. Do your job and write a well thought out reason for these statements, and maybe then I’ll consider this a serious review.

  • Hey Ellie, how’ya doing? I’m one of those mindboggling fans who still get excited over new Muse releases. Been a fan since 2006.

    Truth to be told, The Resistance, The 2nd Law and Drones were a bit hit-and-miss and not comparable to the band’s heyday, but this album really gave me the same vibe as listening to Black Holes & Revelations as a new fan did back in the day.

    Algorithm builds up in this ridiculously epic way that reminds me of Take A Bow (from that album) and also classics like the Flash Gordon theme song by Queen. That sort of thing just makes my day, you know? It’s why I became a fan of the band in the first place.

    Propaganda and Break It To Me are interesting departures for the band, although Propaganda sounds like the next logical evolution from Supermassive Black Hole. Matt wrote that song making fun of his speech impediment (that makes him proncounce”Proper” like “Pwopa”). It honestly sounds like they had loads of fun recording this album, during my first listen of Propaganda I giddily burst out in laughter. I’m sorry that you didn’t like that track or Break It To Me and you thumb your nose at them, as I’ve had these tracks on repeat for the last couple of days.

    The Void sounds like their darker material from earlier albums, like Ruled By Secrecy or Hoodoo, filtered through that John Carpenter / Vangelis lense, and I can’t get enough of it.

    You lament everyone besides the band who has been involved in promoting this album, but the music videos look like a lot of fun went into making that stuff. You seem to describe the process as some sort of coalmine labor, sweatshop exploitation or prostitution, but If Terry Crews likes current Muse enough to voluntarily star in two videos then it can’t be that bad now can it?

    I’m not a different species from you, although Juggalos are also the same species as us both. If being a Muse fan is more like being a Juggalo than like being a cool music-reviewing kid like you then I guess I’ll have to live with it, because this album sounds fun to my ears, moreso than what any woozy floozy like yourself can conjure up on this zillionth website dedicated to dancing about architecture, I mean writing about music. But if this is what gives you pleasure and purpose in your life, then all power to you. I dabble a bit in writing and music myself and bands like Muse inspire me to do whatever the fuck I want to when it comes to my art, because the arbitrary barriers of good taste make everything so incredibly dull.

  • > I would hope that this album is actually part of a simulated reality which was built for me to practice being snarky in writing form

    Whatever the purpose of music is, it’s never been serving as a creative writing exercise for music critics. That’s more of an unfortunate side-effect. When we were all hunter gatherers singing and dancing communally, who would’ve thought that snarky putdowns of someone else’s music would one day become a (lowly) paid job?

    Music has given me a lot of joy, music critics a lot of eye-rolls. Especially in the age of Spotify where you don’t have to purchase an album before listening to it, it’s become even more useless than the porn magazine section of a corner shop. I can name a couple of things music criticism is good for: the amusement of the critic itself, and free publcity for the band in question, even if negative. When people still took critics seriously instead of forming their own opinions, negative publicity unfortunately had the potential to ruin a band’s career and reputation, but those days luckily seem long gone. The only ones who still give a toss are people on message boards who have managed to turn their music taste into the sole source of their self-worth and identity.

    Ellie I’m sure you’re lovely in person, but I give your profession (if it is indeed your profession, and not an unpaid hobby, because music criticism is one of those fields where the difference between professionals and amateurs is quite hard to detect) a strong 4 to a light 4.5/10.

    (PS: Please don’t take my post too seriously, it’s all meant in good fun, and your review happened to be good practise for snarky writing).

  • Yikes, Ellie. You seem to feel the need to compare every song/style change to another band and, because of that, you have trouble making sense of the songs. Not everything has to remind you of another thing you know? Your review would be 20 words long if you didnt keep going and making yourself talk about the comparisons you made up that dont even work.
    That are a lot of things to critique in this album, unoriginality is not one of them, I think.

  • muse should probably change their name, they are not muse anymore, this is another band. There are several reasons why I and a hell a lot of people love muse. On simulation theory, there is nothing to love. I would also give a 2/10 on this album, only for them putting an alternative version of the album, including versions of the songs without so many freaking synths , there are a couple of them which are quite nice, but still nothing exciting. . I first got into muse before they even released their first album, met them on London underground scenes, seen them grow with me , play bigger shows, theaters, then arenas, seen them being the first band to by selling out the new wembley stadium and that show was one on their very peak…All this was so freaking good, till the resistance era. A second law was cool too, sounded like a good change. But then muse started loosing themselves, where they unsuccessfully tried to put themselves back from 2nd law mix electro guitar-experiment by putting out a mediocracy album drones, on which they did not reach their own level of the past, stared sounding boring, repetitive. Muse were never repetitive, on every album you had a surprisingly new approach, such as something that grows up and matures, but the roots are there, they still sounded like muse… Well now simulation theory is so deliberately intentional, they just wanted to sound like something else so badly, and yes they managed to do it successfully ! Yet they lost their own sound, together with the all the very emotion behind it. And this is how something dies.

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