Muse Simulation Theory [Review]

Falling out of love is hard to do. Something that you once held dear drifts apart from you. Decisions and actions may be made and undertaken that make you realise more and more that you no longer look upon your beloved in the same way. Those actions become indefensible. It hurts. Welcome to being a Muse fan.

With their first four perfect albums, Muse rightfully became world conquering. Their uniquely progressive take on rock music was a breath of fresh air that captured hearts and minds. It was angular yet accessible. It was  an antidote to the pop music clogging up the charts of the earlier Noughties. Following this came the ambitious mistake, The Resistance; a masturbatory foray into the world of orchestra. Then came the underrated The 2nd Law, an album of GSCE level science enveloped in dubstep-esque electronica played with actual instruments. Most recently came the beige turkey that was Drones. If GCSE level science was the bulk of their previous outing, then this was a nine year old’s critical analysis of Orwell’s 1984. Basically, Muse have been on something of a downward trend from those heady heights, and now we have the latest career blunder; Simulation Theory.

Do you like Stranger Things? Well, Muse certainly do. And Blade Runner. And Back to the Future. Look, this retro futurist thing is already hackneyed and its not long begun, so jumping on the bandwagon at this point is a cynical cash grab beyond comprehension. There is no amount of po faced interviews that can persuade anyone that this is Muse’s desperate artistic vision. It’s simply trying to scrape some relevance from the corpse of popular culture. The synthwave movement is at least doing something interesting, not simply fetishising mum and dad’s record collection.

Back in the good old days of the band being fresh and viably listenable, Matt Bellamy was a tremendous vocal presence. His falsetto used to be an expression of irrepressible emotion. Now it’s a parody of itself. He sleepwalks through this album with a mixed mash of metaphors that make zero sense but seem to imply the deep philosophical thought ‘what if technology…. Was bad?’. Lyrics like ‘This means war’ and ‘I have lived in darkness’ are as foreboding as a box full of contented kittens, and a boneheaded teenage level of ‘ooh, isn’t everything shit’.

For the majority of the album the band eschew their usual roles. Chris Wolstenhome’s once driving bass is relegated to a walking line completely overwhelmed by the 80s synthesisers. Dominic Howard has been almost all but replaced by a drum machine, and Bellamy hardly touches his guitar. Pressure is about as close as the band get to some semblance of former glory with the pace of Absolution-era and a riff that calls to mind New Born, but it’s so lifeless and trite that it is far from enjoyable. The lyrics are so pathetic it feels like you’re bullying an ineloquent child.

The album’s closest thing to a highlight comes with single, Thought Contagion. A grandiose and symphonic affair that has a chorus worth swaying along to, but an underwhelming one at that. Just a succession of ‘woah-ohs’ underlined by Bellamy’s latest acid trip of a lyrical sentiment. Break it to Me is a Byzantine bore that has shades of Sing for Absolution, but feels as much a cultural appropriation as Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The album’s nadir is the tooth rotting sweetness of Something Human. Aiming for a road trip vibe of returning to a loved one, it feels like the most drab trudge to the shops on an uncomfortably hot day. Swathes of throbbing synths and beat poetry drumming leave this a desperately irritating three and a half minutes that can only be improved by singing it as ‘some thin cumin’ to yourself.

It’s a plethora of political and mechanical paranoia soaked in saccharine synths, and a total mess. The steps back towards rock the band seemed to had taken on Drones are all but gone. The direction is clearly a cynically minded attempt to fit in to the zeitgeist rather than create it as they had done before. They’ve aimed for John Carpenter and ended up with the throwback sensibilities of Adam Sandler. Although this album is funnier than a Sandler film at least. If Drones was a beige bowl of gruel, then this is a Dayglo turd.

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