In the prog community, I think we have a bad habit of ignoring or trashing mainstream prog acts who have achieved financial success. We try to eliminate them from our community, or write them off as sell-outs. Muse is one of these bands, and I’ve seen some pretty harsh things said about them, even recently. They released their new album, “Simulation Theory”, on the 9th of November, and I’ve been happy with the experience that it offers.
My wife and I have been Muse fans for many years. I’m pretty sure that she introduced them to me, actually. I remember being friends with this kid once who said Muse was the only worthwhile band in the last 20 years. He literally listened to Muse exclusively, which was a bit weird. Now, I was a big fan of some of their earlier albums, like “Showbiz” and “Absolution”, but lost track of them after “Black Holes and Revelations” (which I did like). The band, after all these years, still consists of Matthew Bellamy on guitars, vocals, keyboards, synthesizer, and string arrangements; Christopher Wolstenholme on bass, keyboards, and backing vocals; and Dominic James Howard on drums and percussion.
The band has always played an accessible, highly melodic version of alternative/progressive rock. Their sound is instantly recognizable and, to this day, their heightened sense of melody and rhythm are impressive. They know how to write a catchy chorus, but they also know how to compose a complex and technical climax. On this album specifically, the band explores a synth pop vibe with heavy 80s elements, and I would note that the music is definitely the star here, so do not expect anything intense lyrically.
“Simulation Theory” brings many things to mind, but one of those things is certainly not originality. This 80s revival has been going on, even in the prog community, for several years now; and so Muse are simply jumping on a bandwagon that has been rolling for many miles already. Their version is not the best or most inspired version of this sound, either. That said, the album is solid and quite enjoyable.
There are many good songs on this album, though I would point out that some of them are not long enough to mature or progress completely, meaning that some of the songs never reach their true potential. “Pressure”, “Propaganda”, “Break It to Me”, and “Blockades” are examples of this.
Some of the songs stand head and shoulders above the rest, though. “Algorithm” may be the best track on the album: It offers synthetic brilliance coupled with some wonderful and very mature melodies. “The Dark Side” is incredibly catchy with possibly the best chorus on the album, and I really dig the highly melodic vibe of “Get Up and Fight” and the crowd singing and crazy beat of “Dig Down”. “The Void” ends the album with some really cool sounds and atmosphere, though I would note that it could have been developed a little more than it is.
I’m glad that Muse are still writing good music. “Simulation Theory” offers some fantastic bursts of brilliance throughout the album, though I would have loved to see many of the songs taken a bit further. Still, the album is solid, and I’ll probably be listening to it fairly often when I don’t want something too complex or heavy. I expect most prog fans would use this album the same way.
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