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Published on January 16th, 2019 | by voxx


Muse – Simulation Theory

The trio’s virtual reality-themed eighth hints at a creative rebirth…

Over the past decade, Muse’s gigs have become more like an Expo for technological advancement in rock than regular arena shows. There have been floating acrobats, shifting towers, sci-fi lasers, huge pyro chimneys and a fleet of flying spheres. It has become an expected thing: Muse are a band that pushes the envelope, who will give you a spectacle you have never seen before, rock trailblazers who take risks and are constantly imaginative. So how is it that the same band’s musical output has stagnated to the point that you could argue they haven’t made a really good album in over ten years?

That might seem hard on a group who have had a UK Number 1 with every LP they’ve released since 2003. Their trilogy of properly excellent albums – 2001’s Origin Of Symmetry, 2003’s Absolution and 2006’s Black Holes And Revelations – established Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme and Dom Howard as a band pulling rock into the 21st century, making music that mixed classic riffs with pop hooks and sleek, modern production. Since then, though, each of their records have had their moments of brilliance tempered by way too many average bits or songs that just sound like not-as-good versions of their other songs.

Their approach on Simulation Theory suggests they might know that too. As usual, there is a pleasingly daft overarching theme, about how soon we’ll all be living inside a virtual world, presumably one that’s stuck in the ’80s based on the synth-heavy sound and Back To The Future-style artwork. But they have broken from the usual routine by working with an eclectic pick of producers, including percussive pioneer Timbaland, Eminem collaborator Michael Elizondo and Swedish pop titan Shellback, with Rich Costey, who was responsible for their best work, overseeing much of it.

It’s a move designed, you imagine, to elicit new shades and sounds from the group. And when it works, it’s excellent. Opener ‘Algorithm’ sounds like it could be from Daft Punk’s ‘Tron: Legacy’ soundtrack, a fusion of dramatic strings and industrial electro. ‘Pressure’ resembles a rock band from the future discovering T.Rex, while ‘Break It To Me’ melds Rage Against The Machine’s clang with Missy Elliott-style beats. Closer ‘The Void’ is Muse at their over-the-top best, a blend of Bellamy’s call-to-arms vocals, classical piano and ominous sci-fi soundscapes.

But that isn’t the full story. There wouldn’t have been any protesting in the streets if mid-paced rocker ‘Thought Contagion’ had remained a one-off single from earlier this year rather than taking its place among the 11 tracks here, while ‘Get Up And Fight’, the track made with Taylor Swift collaborator Shellback, aims to be a big radiant pop moment but ends up sounding like a boyband putting on their leather jackets and totally, like, rocking out, yeah?

There is enough here, though, to suggest that Muse have found a new way forward. Bellamy’s pal Chris Martin treated Coldplay’s A Head Full Of Dreams as the end of a cycle for the band, believing a band’s seventh record represented the end of a journey. If that’s the case, then Simulation Theory is the first album of Muse’s second phase. In the hunt for new sounds and new songs, they’ve relit the spark.

- By Jake White

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