Before Simulation Theory, Muse released two singles - ‘Dig Down’ in May 2017 and then ‘Thought Contagion’ in February of the next year. The unusual timing of these tracks didn’t correlate with the lead-up to a fully fledged album, so I was ready to assume that they were experimental one-offs.
And yet, the band seems to have gone all-in with both the blandness of ‘Dig Down’ and the excitement of ‘Thought Contagion’, as Simulation Theory is as much of a mixed bag as the singles that came before it.
Muse are known for approaching the idea of a concept album to some degree with all of their releases, most notably in 2012 with The 2nd Law and in 2015 with Drones. Simulation Theory continues this trend, but mostly in terms of style and less so with the thematic weight of something like global warming or dehumanisation via mechanisation. The album does touch on the current political landscape, but does so through the lens of airy, ‘80’s inspired synth infused with Muse’s classic operatic flair. This merging of styles is perhaps most evident in ‘Algorithm’, the album’s opening track.
This stylistic experimentation works to great effect, with ‘Pressure’, ‘Propaganda’, ‘Something Human’ and, of course, ‘Thought Contagion’ all being standout tracks on the album. Across the board, these tracks incorporate references to ‘80’s pop culture, most notably in the music videos - ‘Thought Contagion’ pays homage to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, and ‘Pressure’ parodies the school dance scene from Back to the Future. On top of all that, the Terry Crews cameos are a bonus.
It’s not all good though. As previously mentioned, ‘Dig Down’ is a clear misfire, and songs like ‘Get Up and Fight’ and ‘The Void’ are further examples of this. ‘Get Up and Fight’ in particular has ended up as nothing more than a discount version of 2015’s ‘Mercy’. Serving as uninspired, paint-by-numbers Muse, these efforts come across as lazy ways to build up an already meagre number of tracks (eleven in total, with varying alternate mixes bolstering the deluxe edition).
It’s clear then that what’s there is a mixed bag, and the reception from fans seem to have mirrored this. It’ll be interesting to see how many of the new tracks make an appearance in Muse’s upcoming tour or if the band decides to fall back on their extensive catalogue of tried and tested hits. And while songs like ‘Thought Contagion’ have proven to be fantastic in front of a live audience (Muse even included a recording of an arena performance on the deluxe edition), it remains to be seen if they can sit alongside fan favourites like ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ and ‘Psycho’.