Alternative and progressive rock band Muse released its eighth studio album, Simulation Theory, on Nov. 9. Following the success of its Grammy-winning 2015 album, Drones, the three-man band decided to produce yet another concept album, albeit one that is more abstract and futuristic.
One could simply listen to and watch the videos for the singles that were initially released — “Pressure,” “Something Human,” “The Dark Side,” “Dig Down” and “Thought Contagion” — to realize that Muse decided to take on the concepts of virtual reality, time warps, parallel universes and perhaps even the extraterrestrial. How these concepts tie together is open to interpretation from the listener, but the album slowly builds a simulated world that seems to suck in anyone who dares to examine it too closely.
If there is one thing Muse should be lauded for, it is the band’s unique sound, or rather, combination of sounds. A typical song by Muse relies heavily on guitar riffs, erratic drum beats and unexpected appearances from other instruments or sound effects. All three enhance the words and vocals of lead singer Matt Bellamy. Muse makes sure to keep its listeners awake and alert by jumping between musical styles throughout Simulation Theory.
These styles range from the indie-sounding “Propaganda” to the more mellow and introspective “Something Human” to the hints of pop-punk in “Get Up and Fight.” However, the sound is never consistent throughout an entire track on the album. It is never quite clear when one song ends and a new one begins. This conundrum occurs due to the random style changes in the middle of the songs that creates a psychedelic-like effect produced from Bellamy, bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard. As on past records, Muse lets Bellamy take a breather to showcase the band’s musical prowess, most notably noticed in the long instrumental sections of “Algorithm” and “Break It To Me.”
The relationship between instrumentals and vocals has always been unique when it comes to Muse’s repertoire. Bellamy’s distinct, soaring croons are the primary tool the band uses to tell its story and paint this alternate reality universe listeners find themselves in. Bellamy grabs the listener by the shoulders and pulls them in with his voice, and one often feels haunted, seduced or reassured by it, depending on which track they are listening to.
However, because the backing vocals and musical accompaniment equally share the stage with the lead singer, it can be very easy for the instrumentals to drown out the vocals, or at least leave them behind as just a pleasant afterthought.
While some of the lyrics are pretty simple and repetitive in Simulation Theory, they should still be listened to and analyzed thoughtfully if one truly seeks to figure out what hidden message or story the album is trying to send. This is slightly easier to do by listening to the 10 bonus tracks — most of them acoustic versions of the main 11 songs — that are provided in the super deluxe version of the album. Many of those songs disregard their artistic sound flourishes and focus on the stripped-down lyrics that now yearn for the listener’s full attention.
Out of the 11 tracks that are available on the standard version of Simulation Theory, there are a few that stand out as either capturing the essence of Muse perfectly or, otherwise, completely straying from it. “Pressure,” one of the singles coming from the album, is reminiscent of the band’s 2006 hit track “Supermassive Black Hole.” This nostalgic track helped Muse successfully secure a strong foothold on the American music charts. The song’s more old-school alternative rock feel makes it easy for a new listener to get sucked in and explore the rest of the album. For a more subtle, chilled track that depicts a dystopian, antagonistic society, the listener should turn to “The Void.”
The mention of an omnipresent, ambiguous “they” in the track is a literary tool Muse likes to play around with often, seen in past hits like “Uprising” and “Revolt.” It is never clear who “they” are, especially because “they” seem to transcend time, space and the numerous worlds built by Muse albums. The listener gets the sense, however, that these omnipresent figures make up an oppressive, overpowering force that Muse wants the common person to fight against and overthrow.
Perhaps “they” will be revealed someday, but, for now, the listener is perfectly content joining the fight for love and humanity against darkness. As in every Muse album, this is the overarching message Simulation Theory tries to send.
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